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Utility man Kelly's first mound work a success

Utility man Kelly's first mound work a success

Utility man Kelly's first mound work a success
DETROIT -- In the midst of a 14-3 loss to the Mets on Tuesday night, Tigers utility man Don Kelly had a thought cross his mind: He could be called upon to pitch in order to save the bullpen.

Kelly didn't pitch that night, and he joked with pitching coach Rick Knapp before Wednesday's game that he had to get a bullpen session in.

As fate would have it, Kelly entered Wednesday night's game against the Mets as a pitcher with two outs in the ninth and the Tigers trailing, 16-9. Kelly got the only batter he faced, Scott Hairston, to fly out to center field.

"It's crossed my mind in games before," Kelly said. "When it gets a little bit out of hand and you don't want to burn your bullpen, you start looking around the bench and start looking at guys who might be able to go in there and throw some strikes and fill an inning for you."

Kelly was asked to warm up before the ninth inning, not knowing if he would have to replace reliever David Purcey or not. He went to the batting cage and threw to catcher Alex Avila.

"I was down there getting loose, I probably threw too many pitches," Kelly said. "I threw two innings down in the cage."

Purcey got two quick outs, but after a double, a walk and another double, Purcey had thrown 47 pitches. Not wanting Purcey to be out there too long and only needing one out, Tigers manager Jim Leyland told Kelly to head to the mound.

Kelly hadn't pitched since fall league in his college days in 2000. He had played at five different defensive positions this season and seven different ones throughout his Major League career, but he hadn't been called upon to pitch or catch. On Wednesday, Kelly became the first Tigers position player to pitch since Shane Halter played all nine positions on Oct. 1, 2000, against the Twins.

Kelly headed to the mound, the remaining crowd roared, and catcher Victor Martinez asked Kelly what he had.

"We've got a fastball and a curveball," Kelly told Martinez.

The adrenaline was pumping, and Kelly just wanted to get going.

"Victor asked me what I'm going to throw, and waiting for Victor, it seemed like it took forever for him to get back behind the plate," Kelly said. "You just want to get started."

Kelly said all he wanted to do was throw the ball across the plate. His adrenaline was pumping so hard that only one of his warmup pitches was a strike.

Hairston was 1-for-3 with two walks and three RBIs up to that point in the game. Kelly's first pitch was an 83-mph fastball that missed high. His second pitch was the same.

But the next fastball caught the top of the zone for a called strike. Kelly's fourth pitch was in the same spot, but Hairston fouled it off down the third base line.

The crowd roared some more, hoping for a strikeout. Then Kelly threw the curveball. Hairston swung and hit it over Kelly's head. Kelly turned around and realized he got his first Major League batter out.

"When I turned around and saw [Austin] Jackson just camped under it, I knew it was [an out]," Kelly said.

The crowd continued to cheer. The Tigers players loved it. When Kelly reached the dugout, Leyland said to him, "Man, you can do it all."

Kelly hasn't quite done it all. He still has to catch to play all nine positions, but the tall and lanky utility man who has been happy to play anywhere in the field got a memory he'll never forget. Jackson gave Kelly the out ball as a keepsake.

"That would be great if you say that you played all nine positions, but I really would hope that nobody wants that to come to that," Kelly said. "That would mean that Alex or Victor would get hurt, and we definitely don't need that."

And just in case, Kelly said after the game that he is available to pitch Thursday, not losing the smile across his face he had the entire time.

"There was adrenaline going the whole time, as soon as I stepped on the mound," Kelly said. "It's a whole different feeling, especially not being used to it. It was good to throw some strikes and get the job done."

Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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