Cincinnati Reds

Competitiveness keeping former UK pitcher Downs in the game

Former Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison and his wife, Sharon, met up with former UK pitcher Scott Downs as the Angels visited the Reds.
Former Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison and his wife, Sharon, met up with former UK pitcher Scott Downs as the Angels visited the Reds. Lexington Herald-Leader

CINCINNATI — Scott Downs has come full circle.

Cincinnati is where Downs made his Major League debut in 2000, with the Chicago Cubs.

Now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Lexington resident and former University of Kentucky standout (1995-97) worked the first two games of a three-game season-opening series at Cincinnati that wrapped up Thursday.

After throwing a scoreless inning in Monday's 13-inning, 3-1 season-opening win, Downs took the loss in relief Wednesday on Joey Votto's ninth-inning walkoff single.

A 37-year-old left-hander, Downs talked before Thursday's game about his big-league debut 13 years ago.

He walked Pokey Reese on four pitches, then threw two balls to a future Hall of Famer in Barry Larkin. On deck, set to make his Reds debut was Ken Griffey Jr.

Downs battled back to strike out Larkin, then got Griffey to ground out.

"It's amazing how fast it goes," Downs said. "Just to be fortunate to stay around the game as long as I have, and to be able to compete at the level that we have to compete at in the big leagues. It's fun and I don't take anything for granted. I just kind of go out and play and have fun, try to be a kid and just enjoy what I do."

Among those in the Great American Ball Park crowd Thursday was Downs' coach at UK, Keith Madison.

Madison spent time talking with Downs before the game but stayed away from another former Wildcats hurler, Joe Blanton, because Blanton was due to start.

"If I had to list the five toughest competitors that I've ever coached, Scott Downs and Joe Blanton would both be in that top five," Madison said. "Obviously, they have God-given ability; they have excellent ability. But there's a lot of guys that have ability. Because of their competitiveness and because of the way they handle a game mentally, they've both had long careers and good careers. To me, that's the difference."

Downs went 1-1 with nine saves, 24 holds and a 3.15 ERA last season, his second with the Angels. He led the team with 57 appearances.

"They're both important guys for us this year," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said of Downs and Blanton. "If you look at Scott Downs in particular, his versatility in the bullpen to come in and really pitch anywhere from the seventh to the ninth inning, it gives us a lot of depth there."

Over a career that has had stops with the Cubs, Montreal Expos, Toronto Blue Jays and now the Angels, how has Downs gotten better?

"I wouldn't say gotten better. Just experience," he said. "I'm not too hard on myself. I kind of let things roll off. Like last night's game, it's already gone and looking forward to today.

"I just know how to handle myself and prepare, being a little bit older; how long it takes my body to prepare and adjust. Adjusting with the times, adjusting with the game and just going out and competing, and throwing strikes. ... That's the main thing I want to do is throw strikes, whether it's a fastball or whether it's a curveball. Whatever it is, I want to get in and out of there as fast as I can and try to keep the hitters off-balance. Basically, keep our team in the game."

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