Downs Hoping to Return Soon

A fifth-round pick out of high school three years ago, Darin Downs was hoping to avoid a third consecutive season in short-season, Low-A ball. But an injury and missed opportunities in Spring Training has kept the left-hander on the shelf for most of 2006.

Downs' future remains hopeful. The southpaw is still young (21), and when healthy, has showcased growing upside and potential. His previous two seasons at Boise, in 2004 and '05, Downs averaged over one strikeout per inning and won five of his 13 starts while logging 60 innings both years.

He had hoped to begin this season at Peoria, where he made two starts at the beginning of last year before returning to Extended Spring Training. But an injury set him back and forced Downs and the Cubs to take it slow.

"He had a rib cage-related injury," said Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita. "It had nothing to do with his arm. It was one of those freaky things."

When "healthy" again, Downs returned to Boise and made three starts with the Hawks before going back on the disabled list. He is currently with the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Rookie League.

"I threw a couple of nights ago here in Arizona. I'm supposed to throw again and hopefully get out of here," Downs said.

Downs allowed 12 runs in his first two starts with the Hawks back in June. His most recent appearance with the team on June 30 saw him toss four shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks to 13 batters. He made an appearance with the Mesa team just last Sunday and surrendered four runs in an inning and a third.

Downs is anxious to leave Mesa, but the Cubs want to take their time.

"He's a guy that's come along a little slower obviously," Fleita said. "For whatever reason, left-handers sometime develop later. His future is pretty high. He's only 21 years old and you want to make sure that he's ready to pitch. We're not ready to put him in the bullpen anymore."

Downs features a four- and two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup in his selection of pitches. His four-seam pitch runs between 87-89 mph with the traditional sink on the two-seam pitch.

He isn't angered by the reality of yet another year of short-season A-ball.

"If I had gone to college, I would likely have come out this year and ended up in short-season anyway," Downs said. "A lot of guys in my draft class, some of them are still in Low-A, and some are already up to Double-A and Triple-A. There's really nothing you can do about that. I don't really look at them and think that I should be here or there."

If Downs is healthy enough to return to Boise this month, he'll likely make an impact one way or another in the team's bid for a Northwest League championship. Downs was a member of an '04 Hawks team that beat Vancouver, three games to none, for the league title that year.

The Hawks are currently 26-23, one full game ahead of Tri-City in the Eastern Division after blanking Spokane, 6-0, on Tuesday night behind recently acquired prospect Fabian Jimenez.

The 19-year-old left-hander picked up his first win since coming over from the Padres' farm system in the trade that sent Scott Williamson to San Diego. He has a 1.56 ERA in three starts with the Hawks.

Downs hopes to join him soon.

"It's not really up to me, but I'm feeling good and recovering well," he said.

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