DETROIT -- Darin Downs didn't give up baseball after a line drive three years ago fractured his skull and threatened his life. He wasn't ready to stop trying to reach the big leagues just yet. Nor was he when he was looking for an organization as a Minor League free agent last winter.
Opportunity came knocking with the Tigers' organization, and on Tuesday night, so did the big leagues. It just wasn't in the form some might have expected.
"It's kind of a feel-good story for me to look back on," the 27-year-old left-hander said. "I came so far from that moment, just to being so close to not making it and then being here right now."
By "not making it," he wasn't talking about the roster.
Downs could have left the game entirely, if not worse, thanks to a horrific drive that hit the right side of his head during a start at Double-A Montgomery in the Rays' organization. The damage paralyzed the right side of his face for a while and left him unable to speak for several days.
He was in the hospital, he said, for about 2 1/2 weeks. His return to normal activities took a lot longer, even before he could begin playing baseball again the next spring.
"It was a very tough recovery, to say the least," Downs said. "Post-concussion syndrome was not my friend. I mean, I was kind of depressed. I was tired all the time, I slept. I was like, 'I'm not going to play again, I'm scared to go back out there.' But eventually I got back out there and said, 'Heck with it.'
"I started going through rehab and stuff and tried to get my stamina back and everything, and once I got to Spring Training, I was a little timid throwing live [batting practice] and everything. After that, I was just like, 'Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. It's like one in a million. How many guys today will throw a pitch and nothing happens?' I just kind of took it like that and got after it."
Downs had an outstanding 2010 season between Double-A and Triple-A, but became a Minor League free agent. After spending last year in the Marlins' system, he found interest early in the offseason from the Tigers, the hometown team for his parents.
It took yet another go-around on the Tigers' roster carousel, this time prompted by Max Scherzer's scratch from his scheduled start Tuesday, but Downs got the call. He had just left Fifth Third Field in Toledo, heading back to his apartment, when manager Phil Nevin called him around 11:30 p.m.
"He didn't really directly tell me," Downs said. "He said, 'Come back, we have to talk.' I knew something was going on, something good by the tone of his voice. I just headed back hoping something was going to happen. And I'm here now."
Scherzer on track to start in usual slot Sunday
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer arrived at Comerica Park on Tuesday and received treatment on the left hamstring injury that bothered him for the past few days. The improvement was almost immediate.
"If push came to shove, I could've pitched today if we really needed it," Scherzer said. "But at the same time, you have to be smart about these things. Hamstrings are recurring injuries. Throughout the league, guys who try to come back early from hamstring injuries, it's usually not a good thing."
So on Wednesday, Scherzer will simply reset the clock on his between-starts routine and begin working out as if he had pitched Tuesday. He'll remain on turn to pitch Sunday.
Better to miss one start the week before the All-Star break, the thought goes, than three or four weeks with a hamstring injury that gets aggravated trying to play through it or leads to another injury while trying to compensate. The Tigers have had enough of those as it is.
The Tigers needed an answer Monday night, and when Scherzer tried to throw and run, he still felt the hamstring tightness. Since it's up in his left leg, the landing leg in his delivery, it was a particular concern.
Tuesday was Scherzer's first chance to have the hamstring treated. He was back home in Missouri over the weekend for memorial services for his late brother, Alex. He left Saturday, the day after he tweaked the hamstring while doing his day-after-start running in the outfield at Tropicana Field.
"It's a freak injury," Scherzer said. "I've been doing running and conditioning the day after my starts for four years."
Santiago proving reliable in Tigers' infield
DETROIT -- The long-held belief on Ramon Santiago is that he physically wears down if he plays as a regular for too long of a stretch. Sometimes necessity defies belief.
With the Tigers having gone through two other second basemen -- three if you count Danny Worth's brief stint starting there -- Santiago's previous timeshare role has all but become an everyday job. If he isn't starting at second, he seems to be starting at short, which he was doing Tuesday night.
Tuesday marked Santiago's 15th start in the Tigers' last 17 games, many of them in typical summer heat. He entered Tuesday batting 12-for-47 (.255) over that stretch with three doubles and four RBIs -- not great numbers, but better than the pace he was on as a platoon player for the first couple months.
Until Tuesday, when he committed two errors -- one of them with two outs in a costly five-run third inning -- he had maintained his defense.
"I feel good," Santiago said. "I do my routine, get my ground balls, get in here and do my work."
He could easily go back to platoon work in the coming weeks if the Tigers trade for a regular second baseman. But for now, Santiago is the guy. Ryan Raburn isn't close to regaining regular playing time at second, and Worth went nearly three weeks without a start before the Tigers optioned him to Toledo on Monday night.
Jones' influence as Tigers' pitching coach shows
DETROIT -- One year to the day since the Tigers installed Jeff Jones as pitching coach, manager Jim Leyland called him a "total pitching coach" who has put his imprint on the pitching staff.
It was the kind of midseason coaching change that hinted at desperation when the Tigers did it coming off a struggling west coast trip in 2011. The reasoning given at the time of the move was that the performance was not up to the talent level, aside from Justin Verlander.
It wasn't the way Jones wanted his opportunity, but it was a job he sought for years.
"I think he's kind of quietly brought a calming influence," Leyland said Tuesday. "He's a personable guy to start with, and that always helps when you're coaching and dealing with a lot of different personalities. He's a very talented guy with a good personality, and he seems to have a good rapport with the pitchers.
"The pitching coach is always kind of the buffer between the manager and the pitchers. He does a good job with that. He's like all pitching coaches. He falls in love with pitchers. They're supposed to."
To make room for left-hander Darin Downs on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated outfielder/second baseman Matt Young's contract for assignment. Young spent a stretch in Detroit last month before being optioned to Triple-A Toledo. If Young clears waivers in the coming days, the Tigers can outright his contract to Toledo. He's batting .251 (50-for-199) with 11 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs and 13 steals with the Mud Hens this year, though 53 walks bump his on-base percentage to .410.
The Tigers officially announced the signings of Dominican shortstops Willy Adames and Domingo Leyba, as well as Venezuelan shortstop Adrian Alfaro and outfielder Victor Cortez. All four signings came in the opening of the international signing period.
Top outfield prospect Avisail Garcia has been promoted from Class A Lakeland to Double-A Erie, the Tigers announced Tuesday night. Garcia, a prized signing as a teenager out of Venezuela who turned 21 last month, batted .294 with eight home runs, 36 RBIs and 14 stolen bases for the Flying Tigers through 66 games. He's the latest top-rated Tigers prospect promoted from Lakeland to Erie, joining third baseman Nick Castellanos, reliever Bruce Rondon and catcher James McCann.