CLEVELAND -- As the bullpen has evolved and a starter's workload has diminished, there has been far greater appreciation for middle relievers -- the guys who don't rack up the saves, but get critical outs in the seventh and eighth innings.
It was evident in last year's All-Star Game, when the Royals' Aaron Crow, the Yankees' David Robertson, the Nationals' Tyler Clippard and the Braves' Jonny Venters -- a quartet that combined to rack up six saves throughout all of 2011 -- all got invited.
This year, not so much.
Ten relievers will be going to next week's Midsummer Classic in Kansas City, but all of them are closers, which means a guy like Ernesto Frieri is only an AL Final Vote candidate -- and Scott Downs is essentially ignored despite posting a 0.32 ERA in 28 innings.
Downs could be useful as a late-inning lefty in a game that decides World Series home-field advantage, but he only shares the closer's role with Frieri and thus struggles to get noticed.
"I'm not mad, I'm not upset," said Downs, who has never made an All-Star team in his 11-year career. "All I can do is go out and do what I do. If it gets recognized, great. If it doesn't, as long as I help the team out, that's all that matters."
Downs has been doing a lot of that. Like last season, when he posted a 1.34 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 53 2/3 innings. Or Monday night, when he preserved a three-run lead by getting out of a two-on, none-out jam with seven pitches and notched a six-out save -- his seventh -- in a win over the Indians.
Downs hardly tops 90 mph, but his mechanics are rock solid, his control is pinpoint and his sinker is devastating.
"You can say what you want to say, but I've never -- never, never -- in my whole career been around a pitcher that doesn't elevate the ball, who doesn't try to overthrow, whose mechanics are just as solid as the foundation as this building," veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "It's incredible. It's incredible. And I tell him all the time."