Outfielder falls triple shy of the cycle, has informal agreement for trade
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don Kelly hit just about everything over the plate in the Tigers' 6-5 loss to the Braves on Tuesday. The only thing he didn't hit was the open market.
On the day Kelly could've exercised the opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if the Tigers don't add him to their Opening Day roster, he went 4-for-4, hit his fourth home run of the spring, doubled twice and fell a triple shy of the cycle to add some pressure to his case for the final spot on Detroit's bench. He could've added some contractual pressure as well, but the outfielder said he won't.
Instead, Kelly said, he has an informal agreement with the front office that team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski will try to find him a destination with a Major League job and trade him there if he doesn't make the 25-man roster later this week.
If no such destination was available, Kelly said, he'll accept an assignment at Triple-A Toledo.
Kelly is locked in a competition with speedy outfielder Quintin Berry and utility infielder Danny Worth for the last positional spot. More games like Tuesday will make that roster competition moot.
Kelly's highlight was his drive over the right-field fence off Braves lefty Jonny Venters. It marked Kelly's second homer in three days since breaking out of an 0-for-11 slump, and it brought the Tigers back into a tie game off a pitching duel between starters Shawn Hill and Tim Hudson.
Both Kelly doubles were driven into the right-field corner.
"I'm seeing the ball real well and trying to put good swings on it," Kelly said. "I've been going through this [with roster competitions] since 2006. It does get intense towards the end, and you just have to try to find a way to go out there and compete."
Manager Jim Leyland said Kelly has shortened his swing this spring, allowing him to hit for better contact. It's also a swing that lends itself to reserve duty, when at-bats can be tough to come by in stretches.
"That usually plays more into somebody who's not going to be a regular," Leyland said.
Ramon Santiago tripled in Brayan Pena before scoring on Venters' wild pitch for a 4-2 Tigers lead for Octavio Dotel to protect in the seventh. Venters retired only one batter before he left with a left elbow sprain.
Dotel struck out the side in his first Major League Spring Training game since returning from the World Baseball Classic, but he paid for a two-out single from Matt Pagnozzi and a fastball to Ramiro Pena, whose first home run of the spring hit high off the right-field scoreboard put the Braves back in front.
Atlanta's advantage lasted an inning before Worth singled in the tying run in the eighth. With the game tied in the ninth, Juan Francisco's sixth home run of the spring broke the deadlock. It was his third homer off Tigers pitching this spring, and his second off Brayan Villarreal.
Hill faced one batter over the minimum through his first three innings before Jason Heyward doubled and scored in the fourth. Gerald Laird, getting his first at-bats in more than a week, singled in a run in the fifth.
Hill was assigned to Minor League camp immediately after his outing, and he'll start the season in Triple-A Toledo's rotation.
Hudson allowed a run on four hits over four innings in his final spring start.
Up next: Justin Verlander will make his final Grapefruit League start Wednesday on MLB.TV when the Tigers take on the Phillies in a 1:05 p.m. ET game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Closing candidate Bruce Rondon is also scheduled to pitch for the second straight day. Luis Marte and Darin Downs fill out the list of relievers for Detroit against Philadelphia, which will send Cole Hamels to the mound in his final start of the spring.