Michael Pineda made a lot of Tigers look silly at th..."/> Michael Pineda made a lot of Tigers look silly at th..."/>

Tigers Banking that the Book Holds True for Magglio Ordonez


Seattle’s Michael Pineda made a lot of Tigers look silly at the plate yesterday, but perhaps none had a more disappointing day than former batting champ Magglio Ordonez. Magglio’s 0-for-4 included three strikeouts and a weak ground ball to third. His hitless day completed a series that saw him manage just one hit in 12 at bats and dropped his season line to .172/.250/.190/.440.

This winter, while recovering from a broken ankle that cost him the final two months of 2010, Ordonez had a handful of suitors on the free agent market. He made it clear that he intended to return to Detroit when he held a private workout for the team in December. Eventually the two sides agreed on a one-year, $10 million deal. It looked like a great move for the Tigers, especially given the way Ordonez had played prior to his injury last season.

But things certainly haven’t gone as planned so far.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been running Ordonez out there in the three-hole as often as his still tender ankle will allow. But Ordonez’s bat hasn’t responded despite being in the most enviable of lineup positions; right in front of Miguel Cabrera. That spot in the order should lead to getting more pitches to hit and more of those pitches should be fastballs. The problem for Ordonez is that he hasn’t been quick enough to catch up to them.

Two years ago, Ordonez got of to a terrible start. Many media types (and a helluva lot of bloggers) were calling for his outright release, lest the Tigers allow his then-$18 million option to vest. I was among those who wondered aloud if June was the right time to simply release the Detroit icon. And even though I had but a small fraction of the readers I have now, I don’t mind admitting when I was wrong. Ordonez had a resurgent second-half that year and carried his stellar play into the first-half of 2010.

So what now to do with the aging former superstar?

If I learned anything from 2009, it was that hitters with the pedigree of Ordonez should not be counted out so quickly. As Leyland said earlier this year when discussing Jhonny Peralta‘s knack for driving in runs, “it’s in the book.”

It’s certainly fair enough to point out that at now 37 years old, Magglio is beyond the prime of his career. It’s unwise to expect him to continue to play at an elite level into his late 30s. But the Tigers don’t need elite-level hitting from Ordonez; they only need the career .310 hitter to produce at that level, to find the gaps with regularity, and to drive in runs the same way he has done for 12 years.

Magglio showed us all in 2009 (and again in 2010) that while he was no longer is a threat to club 35 home runs in a season, he could still produce a good amount of doubles and he could still line singles all over the park. If you made a mistake, he could still turn on the ball and drive it over the fence on occasion as well.

The Tigers are banking on Ordonez being able to prove us wrong again. As the weather warms, the thought is that Maggs’ balky ankle will improve and that his batspeed will return, just as it did in 2009. For all the talk about Will Rhymes and his zero extra-base hits, Ordonez has contributed just one double in his 11 hits. The hope is that “Singlio” will once again find the gaps and prove himself unworthy of the nickname.

Much as he will stick by Austin Jackson during his early season struggles, Leyland won’t be benching Ordonez anytime soon. He has already had to get creative in order to keep Ordonez in the lineup, by using Rayn Raburn at second base, and when Victor Martinez returns next week, the logjam will get a little tighter.

I think it’s easy to say that Ordonez should be benched, or released, or sent to the disabled list until his ankle calms down. I can tell you with confidence that the first two scenarios won’t be happening anytime soon, if at all. The last, a possible DL stint, is still a viable option and one the Tigers might look at when Martinez comes back.

This division is winnable for the Tigers. Not if they play they way they did these past three days, but it is winnable. In order to get to the post-season, Detroit must have their Venezuelan trio producing at levels commensurate with their career norms; they must produce the way “the book” says they will.

The Tigers have hitched their wagon to Ordonez for one more year and unlike some other veterans the Tigers have cut loose in recent years, Ordonez has a cache of goodwill built up here. He came to Detroit at a time when free agents wouldn’t even take the Tigers phone call and that is something (along with the 2006 and 2007 seasons) that won’t be soon forgotten by Leyland, Dave Dombrowski, and Mike Ilitch. If you are expecting anything but loyalty to him from the organization, you haven’t been paying attention. They had their chance to walk away and pursue other options this winter and they didn’t do it.

The 2011 fortunes of the Tigers are riding as much on the bat of Ordonez as on anyone. I don’t know if he has another career rebound in him at this age, but for the sake of the Tigers and for Ordonez, I sure hope he does. And lately, that hope is diminishing.

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