DETROIT — Leave it to Don Kelly to lighten up the situation.
When reporters approached Kelly to ask about his being designated for assignment, Kelly said, “Hey guys, this isn’t a funeral.”
When the Tigers reinstated outfielder Andy Dirks from the 15-day disabled list Friday, they made room on the roster by designating Kelly for assignment.
“Donnie Kelly was just a victim of circumstance,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Really, he was a victim of Quintin Berry doing very well. That was a tough one because he’s one of everybody’s favorites.”
In limited action this season, Kelly was hitting just .175 with one home run and seven RBIs, so Kelly saw the writing on the wall.
“When you’re not swinging the bat well, obviously, it can happen at any time,” Kelly said. “You just come and try to do the best you can, but obviously, I wasn’t swinging the bat very well. We needed a little kick, so … we had to make a move.”
Kelly, who only had 17 at-bats in July, wasn’t blaming his lack of hitting on that.
“That’s just the way the game is,” Kelly said. “When you go out there and you get an at-bat here or there and then start, it’s hard not to put pressure on yourself to perform and do well. But that was the role.”
All of Kelly’s teammates came over to say goodbye and give him a hug.
“That’s a tough one because he’s like a brother to all the coaches, myself, teammates,” Leyland said. “He’s like the perfect brother. But that’s the big leagues, that’s the way things go.”
Berry, who is hitting .282 with two home runs and 23 RBIs in 58 games, knew that there was a chance that he could have been the player being sent down to make room for Dirks.
While he was happy to stay with the Tigers, Berry wasn’t as happy about losing Kelly.
“It sucks to see someone go,” Berry said. “It’s a relief for a little while — even though it might mean I’m here just a little while longer — but at the same time, it’s bitter because you’re losing a friend and a teammate.
“He’s been such a great friend and a mentor to me since I’ve been up here.”
Meanwhile, Dirks, who had been on the DL since May 31 with right achilles tendinitis, was immediately inserted into the lineup, batting sixth and playing right field while Brennan Boesch served as the designated hitter.
“It takes some at-bats when you don’t play for a couple months,” Dirks said. “Got a lot of at-bats, saw a lot of pitches, so I feel good now.”
In 10 games on his rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Toledo, Dirks hit .216 with two home runs and five RBIs. His last two games, however, he went 4-for-8 with a double and a home run.
While some fans clamored for the team to designate Ryan Raburn for assignment, it likely came down to the fact that Dirks, Berry, Boesch and Kelly were all left-handed outfielders, while Raburn is right-handed.
Even though it’s been more than two months since Dirks played in a major league game, he feels he’s ready.
“Now that I’ve played down there, I feel like I’m back in the groove, back in the swing of things — taking my swings every day, playing the outfield, getting my ‘baseball brain’ working again,” Dirks said.
Berry knows that Dirks’ return might cut down on his playing time, but that doesn’t bother him.
“Dirks has proven himself,” Berry said. “He’s been down and I’ve been able to fill in for him. Dude has been great. He’s a great ballplayer.
“He played the heck out of the outfield, and he was hitting well before he left. I’m pretty sure that when he gets back here, he’ll jump right back into the role and I’ll be here for whenever they need me.”
In other news, the Tigers transferred the rehabilitation assignment of right-hander Al Alburquerque from Single-A Lakeland to Toledo. With Lakeland, Alburquerque had a 5.40 ERA with nine strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings since starting his rehabilitation assignment July 24.
Alburquerque is recovering from right elbow surgery this past offseason.
Finally, left-hander Daniel Schlereth has been assigned to Lakeland to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment.