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Why Don Kelly plays more often than you think he should

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Super utility player Don Kelly provided the Tigers with a gift that went beyond what the statistics showed.

Joe Robbins

DETROIT — Don Kelly is one of the nicest, most sincere people you'll meet on the Tigers' roster. He fights for a spot on the roster every spring, and every year, at some point Kelly has played for the Tigers in each of the last six seasons. He's the only active player in Major League Baseball to have played every position in the majors, including pitcher.

Kelly hasn't hit a home run this season. He has just four doubles, a triple, and six RBI on 38 hits in 147 at-bats. Kelly is batting .259 with a .347 on-base percentage, slugging a mere .299. He's drawn 19 walks and stolen six bases, having been caught just once.

The numbers aren't impressive and his slugging percentage is the third lowest of his career. The last time Kelly failed to record at least one home run in a season was back in 2009 when he played 31 games in his first season with Detroit.

But the statistics aren't what make Kelly important to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. If anything, you'd have to look just about everywhere but his stats sheet for the answer. Ausmus said he's never had to ask Kelly to be ready at any point in the game. Kelly is always ready, and for Ausmus, that's part of what makes Kelly valuable to him.

A lot of times people look at statistics and they see a guy like Don Kelly, they don't understand how valuable he is. He's a very good defender in multiple positions, he can play first, he can play third, he can play anywhere in the outfield. He has the ability to bunt, he's a left-handed bat, he has the ability to pinch-run. He gives a manager a lot of flexibility, and he's got experience so you feel confident when you send him up there to hit or you send him to just about any position on the field. I know I feel good about him when I stick him at third base or stick him in the outfield, and I'm confident in him being there. And I know, because of experience, you're not going to see a lot of mental mistakes from him, he's not going to make young mistakes that you might see from a rookie infielder or a rookie outfielder.

In April, Kelly collided with a wall making a spectacular catch against the San Diego Padres. He had recently replaced Torii Hunter who was taken out of the game on April 8 against the Dodgers, for colliding with a wall and was day-to-day for a left knee contusion (bruise).

Kelly remained in the game and nothing was heard of any after-effects until August 22 when Ausmus opted to have Andrew Romine pitch in the 20-6 loss to the Twins. Ausmus said after the game that Kelly was unavailable to pitch because he was still receiving treatment for the shoulder injury sustained in April.

Kelly has never held an OPS at or above .700, he's never reached 10 home runs in a season and it's unlikely he'll drive in 30 runs in a single season. But he will go all-out for plays, play through discomfort such as he's dealt with all season, and he's never complained once about being benched for days, even weeks at a time.

It can be a difficult thing to be unsure of when your next at-bat will be or when you'll take the field. Still, Kelly continues to pop into the lineup and every time he delivers when needed. He spends more time in the batting cage than most, working on his swing and taking grounders or catching fly balls during batting practice.

No one needs to tell Kelly he needs to be ready for the next game. For Ausmus, that makes Kelly valuable and he doesn't need a set of statistics to tell him what he already knows.