Once a long shot, Kensing makes Tigers' bullpen

Once a long shot, Kensing makes Tigers' bullpen

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Logan Kensing couldn't remember the last Opening Day roster he made. It was 2009, when he was a young reliever with the Marlins.

"A long freaking time ago," Kensing said.

Seven years and eight teams -- nine, if you count his two Mariners stints separately; 10, if you count his nine-game stint in 2011 with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.

It was that second Mariners stint, including 19 games in Seattle last summer under manager Lloyd McClendon, that helped lead Kensing on this path that will put him in the Tigers' bullpen on Opening Day.

Kensing whiffs Valencia

The Tigers made what is likely to be their final Spring Training roster decisions Friday morning, assigning right-hander Lendy Castillo to Minor League camp. Barring injury, Kensing will be in the bullpen on Opening Day on Tuesday at Miami.

Kensing isn't making any assumptions. He's been here before.

"I think two or three times, I've been down to last cuts," Kensing said. "I've been down to last cuts and gotten released, too. It's one of those deals. You just play the game."

Kensing did that this spring better than anyone. From his crammed locker in a corner of Detroit's Spring Training clubhouse -- across from bullpen catcher John Murrian, next to other non-roster invites and prospects -- Kensing kept his head down, took the ball when called upon and pitched. Performance and circumstance kept him around until he looked up and saw lockers cleared out.

"You kind of just sit there and try to have tunnel vision and do your thing," Kensing said. "No matter what's going on in the outside world or on the team, just go out there and try to get outs and that's it. For me, you put the blinders on every day coming in and do your job and try to do it the best you can."

When general manager Al Avila and his staff embarked on their first offseason in charge, one goal was to improve the depth in camp, giving them better protection in case of injuries. They weren't counting on needing that depth so soon.

The Tigers had a hard time attracting quality non-roster free agents in recent years, thanks to an established roster. Last year's bullpen struggles enhanced their need and created some opportunities. Kensing received a recommendation from McClendon, now managing at Triple-A Toledo, as well as scouts.

"We went out and signed him, because we had the good recommendations," Avila said.

Still, interest had to be mutual. Kensing has been at enough stops where he barely received a passing look. At 33, he didn't want to waste his time.

"I knew a bunch of guys that played in the organization, and they spoke really highly of it," Kensing said. "They said it's still a baseball team, and it's fun to play for guys that really still know the game. I know there's a bunch of teams out there that don't, people running that aren't really baseball people. They have people running it, but it's not in their blood. And I know this is a huge baseball family.

"It's always fun to play for those kind of guys, because they understand the business, the ups and downs, the lifestyle -- that kind of stuff. These guys came highly recommended and they gave me the opportunity, and I took it."

Kensing allowed three runs on 11 hits over 10 1/3 innings with a walk and five strikeouts. His opening stint might be brief, depending on the recoveries of Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson. Then again, Wilson and Hardy were long shots in past years, too.

"I'm just glad to get the opportunity," Kensing said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.