Kelly replaces V-Mart as Tigers' backstop
Veteran completes position cycle after minor injury to Martinez
DETROIT -- Tigers catcher Victor Martinez left Saturday night's rain-delayed 15-3 loss to the Giants after taking a ball off his right shoulder, leading to utilityman Don Kelly's first career appearance behind the plate -- and some high praise from manager Jim Leyland.
"You're always trying to find something positive out of something like this," Leyland said, "and the positive for me is that there may be somebody more talented, but for a 25th player, I wouldn't rather have anybody in baseball than Donnie Kelly. Nobody. There's not a better 25th player in baseball that I would take."
Martinez left with a bruised right shoulder after being hit by a foul tip from a pitch from Brayan Villarreal, who entered the game in the third inning after a 2-hour, 36-minute rain delay. Martinez finished the inning after head athletic trainer Kevin Rand attended to him, but Kelly came out of the dugout with catching gear for the top of the fourth inning.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
Martinez's injury isn't expected to be serious, Leyland said.
It was the realization of an insurance plan the Tigers planned back in Spring Training, but under different circumstances. By working Kelly at catcher, the plan went, the Tigers wouldn't have to forfeit the designated-hitter spot on days when Alex Avila caught and Martinez started at DH.
In Saturday's case, though, Martinez wasn't the DH, and Avila was available off the bench. With the Tigers down by 10 runs, though, Leyland used the opportunity to get Kelly some game time.
"Victor got banged up really bad," Leyland said. "He got two of them, and I just wasn't going to take a chance. He's been a godsend for us. I had to get him out of there, and I didn't want to put Alex in a situation where it looked like it was going to be one of those games.
"I've been through this before in my career, and that's when guys get hurt. When you get in fiascos like this, somebody gets hurt. Not that I wanted Donnie to get hurt, but I just didn't want to take a chance with Alex."
Thus, Kelly got a chance to use the catching gear he ordered heading into the season, just in case of a moment like this. For the next six innings, he tried to get Detroit's heavily used bullpen through a long night.
"I never caught in high school or college or anything," Kelly said. "I caught a couple of simulated innings in Spring Training this year, but that was the first time in a real game."
The appearance came three days after Kelly pitched in Detroit's 16-9 loss to the Mets. He has now played every position at some point in his Major League career.
Just 55 other players since 1901 have pitched and caught in the same season, according to research on baseball-reference.com. The most recent was Kevin Cash, who did it with the Astros last season.
"I have such a new appreciation for both," Kelly said. "Pitching with what Justin [Verlander] can do going out there, a no-hitter with 27 outs, and then the catchers too. They're both tough, and to go out there, and I think it was just the concentration level, every pitch you're into a game.
"It was six innings. I guess, compared to [pitching to] one batter, [that] makes it a little more difficult."
Add in Kelly's other appearances this year in all three outfield spots, plus first and third base, and he's just the eighth player since 2001 to play all those spots in one year. Former Tiger Shane Halter and then-Ranger Scott Sheldon both did it in 2000, doing so while playing all nine positions in a game.
The Tigers drafted Kelly in 2001 as a shortstop, the position he played for most of his early years in the farm system. He added utility infield versatility a few years later, then took on spot outfield work once he signed with the Pirates organization as a Minor League free agent in 2007. He got his first shot at the big leagues in Pittsburgh.
By 2009, his last season of Minor League duty, Kelly was the regular center fielder with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. He was sharing starts in the outfield as recently as last season, then filled in at third base for Detroit last month when Brandon Inge went on the disabled list.
"There's some more talented," Leyland said, "but I would take him. The guy's unbelievable, just the way he does things and goes about his business."
That's high praise for Kelly, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh and followed Leyland's Pirates growing up.
"That's the thing you want to do, is come out and give the team everything," Kelly said. "Whether I'm catching or pitching or wherever I'm playing, you just give 100 percent and give everything you've got, and that's all you can do."
Kelly admitted after pitching Tuesday that he wanted to catch at some point. He never expected to get his chance so soon.
"I thought I'd catch before I pitched," Kelly said. "It worked out the other way, but definitely one of my goals was to play all of them. And tonight, it happened."
Villarreal optioned after Saturday shellacking
DETROIT -- The Tigers brought back Brayan Villarreal this week because they needed a fresh arm after giving up 30 runs Tuesday and Wednesday. After a 15-3 loss Saturday night, the Tigers sent Villarreal back to Triple-A Toledo for the same reason.
Adam Wilk, who was optioned to Toledo before the current homestand, was recalled from the Mud Hens to take his place.
Villarreal said he brought a newfound sense of confidence with him, but that was before he pitched against the Giants.
One night after he had an eight-pitch battle with Brandon Crawford en route to a bases-loaded walk, Villarreal replaced starter Max Scherzer following a 2-hour, 36-minute rain delay. He inherited a 3-1 count to Crawford, worked the count full before giving up a walk, then gave up a grand slam to Miguel Tejada that stretched San Francisco's lead to 10-0.
Villarreal left four batters later, having walked two and given up a single. He retired one of the six batters he faced, which likely halted that confidence boost he was feeling coming into the night.
"What I felt [Friday] night," Villarreal said Saturday afternoon, "is that I don't have to think like I have to be perfect. Just throw the ball like I did in Spring Training. I lost my confidence [earlier in the year], but last night I could feel it coming back.
"I felt more comfortable last night. I know my confidence is back."
Local June awards go to Verlander, Cabrera
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander will most likely hear next week whether his 6-0 record and 0.92 ERA in June earns him American League Pitcher of the Month honors. But there was no question he would win Tigers Pitcher of the Month recognition, which were announced Saturday.
Verlander was an easy vote for local media after allowing just five earned runs in 49 innings over six starts, all of them victories. He averaged better than eight innings a start, including two complete-game victories.
Miguel Cabrera won the Tigers Player of the Month award after batting .376 (35-for-93) with seven home runs, 19 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 28 games. Also receiving votes was Brennan Boesch, who batted .380 (41-for-108) in June with eight doubles, six home runs and 13 RBIs.
Wells gives rundown of spectacular play
DETROIT -- Casper Wells isn't a ghost, but he was able to make a spectacular play Friday night after almost disappearing in a group of fans.
With Giants runners on the corners with no outs, Pablo Sandoval hit a fly ball down the left-field line. It was going to be foul, the only question was if Wells would be able to get it or not. Aaron Rowand was ready to tag from third base in case he did.
Fans instinctively got ready to catch the ball. Wells said he heard someone yell for fans to get out of the way, but a few still went for the ball. Wells was able to snag it from them, and Rowand headed home.
"There was some guy there I thought I was going to have to straight-arm, but the fans were knowledgeable enough to let me catch that and get out of the way a little bit, because I saw people kind of spacing back out of the corner of my eyes," Wells said. "But I had my eye on the ball, and when I saw that I was going to have a chance to catch it, I knew I was going to have to get rid of it quick, because he was going to be aggressive probably going towards home."
Despite catching the ball flat-footed, Wells was still able to throw a bullet to home plate, where Alex Avila tagged out Rowand for the double play in one of the highlights of the season.
"I kind of just threw it in the direction of Alex," Wells said. "I couldn't really see that well. I just saw Rowand moving and I just threw it, basically."
Leyland giving Jackson green light to steal
DETROIT -- When Austin Jackson was caught stealing third in the sixth inning on Friday's 4-3 loss to the Giants, it seemed puzzling. With one out and Miguel Cabrera on deck, some wondered why Jackson would take a risk.
But Tigers manager Jim Leyland has confidence in his speedy outfielder, giving Jackson the green light to steal bases unless told otherwise. Leyland said Jackson got a poor jump looking to steal his second base of the night, but the decision to go wasn't a poor one.
Jackson has stolen 15 bases this season and had been safe in 13 consecutive attempts before being caught at third on Friday.
"I think he's getting pretty good at it," Leyland said. "I think he just made a bad decision last night because he didn't get a jump. The decision wasn't bad, the execution of it was. He just didn't get a jump, and sometimes when you don't, you've got to back off. But he's doing fine."
Jackson is on roughly the same pace he was a year ago, having stolen 13 bases at the 83-game mark last season. He finished his rookie season with 27.
After a slow start, Jackson has picked up his offense. Since June 3, Jackson is hitting .304 with seven stolen bases, leading Leyland to say Jackson and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury have been two of the American League's best center fielders in the recent weeks.
Tigers welcome sticky July heat
DETROIT -- The Tigers spent May waiting through rain showers and slogging through cool, damp weather -- when they weren't having games postponed. Considering that, they weren't going to complain much about temperatures in the mid-90s on Saturday.
"No sense complaining about the heat," said manager Jim Leyland. "That's what we're supposed to like."
Naturally, thunderstorms caused a lengthy delay in the top of the third inning of a game the Tigers dropped, 15-3.
Readings at Comerica Park reached 96 degrees by the time the Tigers finished an abbreviated batting practice. Hitters were told to go outside with their group to take their swings, then head back inside to the air-conditioned clubhouse. Pitchers still gathered in the outfield and shagged fly balls.
A few players moaned about having to go back outside once they realized how hot it was, but they got their work in.
Brad Thomas' rehab assignment won't necessarily resume right away, but the left-handed reliever will rejoin Triple-A Toledo on Sunday to resume workouts. Thomas was on his way to Toledo on Saturday when he was called back and threw a side session in the afternoon. His rehab assignment was halted Tuesday so that he could have his elbow checked out after complaining of tightness and worrying about velocity.
The Tigers have reportedly opened the international signing period with a big one, inking Dominican slugging teenager Adelin Santa for a $750,000 bonus, according to Baseball America, which had him ranked 26th on their top 40 international targets list. The Tigers did not confirm the signing, but they've made a splash with some bigger signings the past couple of years as their standing in the First-Year Player Draft order has fallen.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.