LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don Kelly spent years of his Tigers tenure with the reputation as a Jim Leyland favorite. It's a new era of leadership in Detroit these days, but Kelly seems to be making some of the same impressions on new manager Brad Ausmus.
"The thing I didn't know about Don Kelly is, one, he's got some baseball savvy to him," Ausmus said Thursday. "He knows what he's doing on the bases. We talked about his versatility, but I don't know that I realized what type of outfielder he really was and what type of arm he had.
"I'm certainly learning things about Don Kelly that I didn't know. I knew he was a valuable utility guy that you could put in many spots with a left-handed bat, but so far he's been much better than my initial thoughts or projections were. And he's a great guy, great teammate to boot. They don't really have ratings that put a number of that."
Whether those impressions earn Kelly a share of the left-field mix at season's open remains to be seen. As Ausmus looks for a left-handed hitter to plug into left field with Andy Dirks out until June, that insight is worth noting. It doesn't mean Kelly will comprise the lefty half of the left-field platoon, but if the Tigers end up filling Dirks' absence from within, Kelly looks bound to get some starts.
Kelly had Thursday off after playing in each of the previous three games. He's 9-for-23 this spring and 8-for-19 in March, having hit in every game he's played this month. He has three doubles, a home run and five RBIs, as well as four walks.
"He's swinging the bat well right now," Ausmus said.
Kelly said earlier this week that he's not trying to make a big impression, but that he's seeing pitches well. He has made a habit of that in Spring Trainings past. A year ago, Kelly beat out Quintin Berry and others for a utility spot by hitting .320 (16-for-50) with four homers and eight RBIs. The spring before that, he batted .321 (18-for-56). In fact, Kelly has batted .300 or better every spring since 2010.