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MLB Opening Day 2016: Tigers' Andrew Romine could be the new Don Kelly

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The Tigers' top utility infielder may fill Cameron Maybin's center field role to start the season.

Duane Burleson/Getty Images

When asked about a potential replacement for the injured Cameron Maybin in center field, Detroit Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus had some interesting words to share with MLB.com. The two names that immediately came to mind as a replacement for Maybin were center fielder Wynton Bernard, who has since been optioned to Triple-A Toledo, and corner outfielder Tyler Collins, who should be on the Opening Day roster.

Instead, Ausmus dropped a third name in the mix: utility man Andrew Romine.

Romine is a switch-hitter who played every infield position for Detroit last season, logging 59 games at third base, 27 at shortstop, 17 at second base, and 13 games at the premier sack, as well as two appearances in left field. He has not played center field in the major leagues.

"He's got the speed to cover center field," Ausmus said. "Actually, he said he played outfield when he first started playing baseball because his dad was an outfielder. We want to see how comfortable he is out there, how well he can man that position."

Romine, is a career .287 hitter against left handed pitchers, and just .229 against right handers, but he has hit more often from the left side of the plate. That is largely due to the fact that he's backing up right-handed hitters all around the diamond. While the team could use another left-handed bat in the lineup, center field is the one place where the Tigers have a lefty hitter in the starting lineup who could use a platoon partner, at least while Maybin is on the disabled list. Anthony Gose is a career .202 hitter against left-handed pitching.

The fact that Ausmus mentioned Romine rather than fellow utility infielder Mike Aviles is mildly surprising. After all, Aviles played 39 games in the outfield (including five games in center field) for the Cleveland Indians last season. He was acquired in part because he is a right-handed hitter who plays both infield and outfield.

But when it comes to a semi-regular role in center field, it's Romine who gets the mention from his manager.

The idea of a super utility player conjures up memories of the not too distant past when the role was filled by Mr. Nice Guy, Don Kelly, who played all three outfield positions, as well as second base, third base, and first base for the Tigers from 2009 to 2014. Although he spent several years in the Tigers' minor league system primarily as a shortstop, and eventually broke into the major leagues as a shortstop with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kelly never played that position in Detroit. Most of his work for the Tigers was in the outfield.

Kelly is the brother-in-law of Mets second baseman Neil Walker and son-in-law of Tom Walker, who pitched for the Tigers, Montreal Expos, St Louis Cardinals, and California Angels from 1972-1977. Romine's brother, Austin, is a catcher with the New York Yankees, and their father, Kevin Romine, was an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox from 1985 to 1991. The baseball blood lines run deep in both families.

Romine has pitched one inning for the Tigers. Kelly pitched one third of an inning for Detroit. Romine did allow three runs on four hits, including a pair of home runs in his lone inning of work, while Kelly retired the only batter he faced. Should Romine round out his résumé with significant work in the outfield, he could give the team the super utility player they had in Kelly, and maybe more.

Of course, the Tigers could also re-sign Kelly, who was released by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.