The Angels pushed Downs a lot closer to that goal on Monday — by trading the 37-year-old left-hander to the Atlanta Braves for triple-A reliever Cory Rasmus, a move that will save $1.7 million in payroll and is an indication the team has little hope of contending this season.
Downs, who went 2-3 with a 1.84 earned-run average in 43 games and is in the final year of a three-year, $15-million contract, goes from a highly disappointing club that trailed Oakland by 13 games entering Monday to a club that led the National League East by 81/2 games.
"It's kind of bittersweet," reliever Kevin Jepsen said. "I loved the guy. He was my friend. He was a veteran who's been around, seen everything, and if you had a question, you went to him. To see him go is tough.
"At the same time, it's nice for him, as long as he's played this game, to go to a team that has a legitimate shot of going to the playoffs, which is why he came here. So I'm definitely happy for him."
The trade could be perceived as evidence the Angels, who lost slugger Albert Pujols to a season-ending foot injury Sunday and reportedly are willing to listen to offers for shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick, have given up on the season. But there was no white flag in their clubhouse Monday.
"You always have the mind-set that you're in it," first baseman Mark Trumbo said. "Obviously, we have a lot of ground to make up, but we're playing for pride. If we play hard enough and get a few breaks, it can change fairly quickly for us."
Added Jepsen: "We're not throwing in the towel."
Rasmus, a 25-year-old right-hander, will report to triple-A Salt Lake. He was a first-round pick of the Braves in 2006 but has appeared in only three major league games. Armed with a 93-mph fastball and above-average changeup, Rasmus had a 1.72 ERA and 14 saves in 36 2/3 innings for triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.) this season.
Call to arms
The Angels added two relievers Monday, recalling left-hander Nick Maronde from double-A Arkansas and right-hander Daniel Stange from triple A. Utility player Brad Hawpe was designated for assignment.
Maronde, 23, was superb last September, compiling a 1.50 ERA in 12 games for the Angels, but he struggled in spring training and has spent most of 2013 at Arkansas, going 2-3 with a 3.91 ERA in 48 1/3 innings.
Stange, 27, signed after being released by San Diego on June 15. He had a 3.60 ERA in 15 games at Salt Lake. A former teammate of Angels reliever Dane De La Rosa at Wildomar Elsinore High, Stange appeared in four big league games for Arizona in 2010.
Jason Vargas and Sean Burnett threw bullpen sessions Monday. Vargas, out since June 26 surgery to remove a blood clot in his armpit, probably will throw a simulated game Thursday and begin a minor league stint early next week. . . . Aybar led off Monday, his fourth different lineup spot in four games.