Don Kelly has 37 at-bats this season for the Tigers. (Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News)
Utility man Don Kelly does not have compromising photos of Tigers manager Jim Leyland. Neither did Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn when fans questioned why Leyland rested productive starters for less than productive backups.
For Leyland his lineup juggles are more than giving starters rest. He is trying to keep an entire 25-man roster fresh and ready for the grind of 162 games of baseball in all types of weather, time zones and conditions.
Ever since Leyland first stepped into his manager's office, his lineups have upset fans. Why rest Torii Hunter when he is hot? Why does Austin Jackson need to sit down?
At times Leyland has exploded, saying no town obsesses with lineups as much as in Detroit. But his quirky ways have paid off.
Kelly saved a home run earlier in the season in the outfield and sparked a four-run rally in the 14th inning with a run-scoring single in a 7-3 victory over Houston on Thursday. Kelly is batting .189 this season and the RBI was his first and only one of the season.
On the flip, Matt Tuiasosopo is batting .324 with a home run and eight RBIs off the bench. He was a guy who didn't have a team this offseason but played well in spring training and found a home with the Tigers.
You can throw Andy Dirks in the equation because Leyland is basically platooning him in left field with Tuiasosopo.
Leyland said he will continue to play both men to prevent them from getting stale and to keep other players fresh. He also knows he might need them in case of injuries down the stretch. The Tigers are powerful enough to win even with a reserve or two in the starting lineup. The key is making sure the roster is ready for the postseason.
"It is not a matter of being tricky with the lineup," Leyland said. "It is common sense. If you look at the NFL you have offense, defense and special teams. Everyone is involved. You have to have guys come off the bench."
Really, what has been the harm this season? Kelly has 37 official at-bats. Jackson entered Tuesday's game against the Washington Nationals with 132 at-bats and Hunter 119. You notice Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder rarely get days off, mostly because Leyland said they can handle it but more importantly they are the main cogs in this lineup.
Most of the anger occurred the past several seasons when Leyland insisted on playing Raburn, a guy who got off to terrible starts. Fans complained every time Raburn played and wondered why Leyland liked him.
Leyland saw something in Raburn, something Cleveland Indians fans are seeing now during his hot start. Raburn was named American League Player of the week after batting .591 with four home runs and nine RBIs.
Filling a need
Leyland played Raburn and Kelly and others because he felt he had to. One problem is playing baseball is nothing like the physical grind of playing in the NBA and NHL where cardio energy is used just about every shift. In baseball you mostly sit and wait your turn. But there is a different grind in baseball, Leyland said.
Baseball plays 162 games in cold weather, hot weather and in the conditions other sports don't have to deal with.
"This is a grind," Leyland said. "There are a lot of things involved here. We are not complaining because we are well paid and we try to put on a good show for the fans at all costs. We are no different than you guys. You don't feel good every day you go to work. You get sick like anybody else. It is no different than anything else."