Lakeland, Fla. — Suddenly, walking onto the back fields at Tigertown Saturday, in uniform, with a baseball glove on his left hand, was former Tiger super-utility player Don Kelly.
The club had not, at that point, made any announcement — to which general manager Al Avila chuckled and said to a couple of reporters, “I just wanted to see how you guys would react to that.”
But the mystery was quickly solved when Kelly broke off and warmed up with the other coaches who would be throwing batting practice Saturday.
Kelly, who retired from playing last month, has been hired by the Tigers as a scout and assistant on the player development staff.
“I could see us using him a lot like we use Alan Trammell,” Avila said. “At first, though, he’s going to be doing mostly scouting for us.”
Kelly, a lightning rod for fans and sports talk radio in Detroit, played six years with the Tigers (2009-2014) before finishing up his career with two injury-plagued years in Miami.
Miguel Cabrera, despite a slow start to the season, hit .316 last year with a .956 OPS, 38 home runs and 108 RBIs. But the statistic that elicited a long and emphatic comment from manager Brad Ausmus Saturday was 158 — as in, 158 of 161 games played.
“You can say anything you want about Miguel Cabrera,” he said. “You can say he’s the greatest right-handed hitter in the last 50 years, or maybe ever. You can say he doesn’t run fast anymore. But the one thing I put above everything is the fact that the guy plays every day.
“That right there is a leader. Because players look at him — he’s going to be what, 34 — and he’s playing every day. He expects to play every day and plays hurt.”
Ausmus said he was blessed to have several players who pride themselves on playing through nagging injuries and showing up day in and day out.
“I give a lot of credit to guys who do that,” he said. “They post every single day and that’s the hardest thing to do in this game, especially nowadays.”
Ausmus also praised Cabrera’s baseball intelligence.
“His baseball IQ is way higher than I thought, before I knew him,” he said. “He’s got one of the better IQs of anyone I’ve ever played against or managed, or been around.”
Sights and sounds at Tigers spring training from the past couple of days. Robin Buckson / Detroit News
Around the horn
Asked if any player in particular stood out to him after a week with the pitchers and catchers, Ausmus noted right-handed relief pitcher Ruben Alaniz, who posted a 2.69 ERA between Double A Erie and Triple A Toledo last season, striking out 74 in 73⅔. innings. “He’s got a good arm, mid-90s fastball with good sink and run on the ball against righties,” Ausmus said. “Good slider, too.”
… Ausmus said that both Alex Avila and Victor Martinez would get some work at first base. He said he wants to try to give Cabrera more games at designated hitter to get him off his feet more.
…The Tigers double-play combo of the early 2000s was back together at Tigertown Saturday. Omar Infante is a non-roster invitee trying to snag a roster spot and Ramon Santiago, now retired, was visiting his former teammates.
… During the first infield drills of camp, Infante worked at shortstop and second base, along with the regulars — Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Andrew Romine and Nick Castellanos. Dixon Machado, who is trying to win a spot as the second utility man, was with a younger group on another field. Ausmus said not to read anything into that. “You usually separate guys you know are going to be on the big-league team or have the most big-league time. They get to be on the big guy field,” he said. “It’s based on seniority.”