TORONTO — It wasn’t an easy choice, designating the elder statesmen of the pitching staff, but the White Sox felt compelled to let Scott Downs go Thursday.
Much to the dismay of his teammates, the popular veteran left-handed reliever was designated for assignment on Thursday.
The White Sox parted ways with Downs so they could recall left-hander Eric Surkamp from Triple-A Charlotte.
In part because he struggled to get right-handers out, which often limited him to facing lefties only, the specialist had become a liability on the field. But Downs, who signed a deal worth $4.25 million this offseason, even had difficulty with left-handed hitters as he racked up a 6.08 ERA and allowed 39 men to reach base in 23 2/3 innings this season.
“It just didn’t work, being able to just get the one guy,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He was having some stuff with righties.
“The way it’s going for us we need something more than a guy coming in to get one guy. With Eric coming up, what he’s been doing recently, he gives us that length we really need at this point. But it’s always tough. Scott was a pro and he’s a good guy to have in there for younger guys learning how to do stuff in the bullpen.”
It didn’t seem to matter, young or experienced, White Sox pitchers looked up to Downs, 38. With a pro career that dates back to 1997, Downs has seen it all and players respected his demeanor in the clubhouse and in a bullpen hit by significant injuries.
“He had a very calming affect on the guys,” reliever Zach Putnam said. “There’s nothing that gives him much anxiety. It’s nice to have around to keep it fun out there. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
Starting pitcher John Danks also called the decision difficult. He and Downs were particularly close and it didn’t matter that the veteran is a reliever, he was important to the entire staff, Danks said.
“He’s a great teammate,” Danks said. “He was the leader of the staff in the bullpen and us starters. He was a guy we could talk to and he’d been around. It sucks to see him go, but hopefully he lands on his feet somewhere and pitches well.”
The White Sox turned to Surkamp, who has pitched particularly well of late.
He went 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings last week on his way to winning the International League player of the week award for June 16-22. A waiver claim in December from the San Francisco Giants, Surkamp said he didn’t pitch well enough in spring training to earn a job with the team out of camp.
But he feels like he’s in a much better spot now.
“I definitely felt a little better the last couple of weeks,” Surkamp said. “I don’t know if I can really pinpoint what it is that changed. It’s kind of how baseball is sometimes, you go through ups and downs throughout the season. Started off a little slow, but I think I’ve found a little bit of a groove lately.
“I was all right going to Triple-A. It wasn’t like I was crushed by it or anything like that. I just wanted to pitch and start pitching well and if you do that, things will work out.”
Ventura is eager to use Surkamp, who should be able to stay in games longer than just to face left-handed hitters.
“He’s sharp,” Ventura said. “A lot of it comes now from what we hear he’s doing down there. I haven’t seen him pitch in a while, but seeing him in spring training, he has a lot of arm angles. He creates some difficult angles for lefties, and he’s also been throwing multiple innings, which is good too.”