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Kelly replaces V-Mart as Tigers' backstop

Kelly replaces V-Mart as Tigers' backstop

Kelly replaces V-Mart as Tigers' backstop
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.

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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."

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