June 6th, 2009

Good night for Magglio

Looking for a bright spot from the Tigers’ offensive effort Friday night? It’s a short list, and it begins with the man whose struggles have been used almost as a crutch at times for the Tigers’ hitting woes as a team.

“I was encouraged a little bit tonight by the way Magglio swung,” manager Jim Leyland said after Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Angels. “I think he looked like himself a little bit more tonight.”

Ordonez had two hits and drove in Detroit’s lone run, and he made Ervin Santana pay for walking Miguel Cabrera with two out and a shutout bid on the line in the ninth. But it was Ordonez’s other hit that raised some eyebrows.

If not for Comerica Park’s cavernous right-center field around the out-of-town scoreboard, Ordonez’s fifth-inning leadoff drive might have been gone. As it was, he got it to the warning track and over center field Torii Hunter, sending him around second. It was his first extra-base hit in almost a week, but more importantly, it was a ball that Ordonez centered and drove instead of trying to go the other way with it. He has had a lot of opposite-field hits on his way to a .280 average this season, but hasn’t mixed it up with many pulled shots over the last few weeks, if not longer.

“The one he drove to center was encouraging,” Leyland said. “He hit that ball a long way, so hopefully that’s a sign of some things to come.”

His other hit went to right, but it went there with some authority. It was Detroit’s lone hit with runners in scoring position Friday.

Yes, the lack of production is startling in a bad way, as many have been writing about. But before people write off Ordonez as a hitter, consider this: He’s batting .350 (28-for-80) with eight doubles, seven RBIs and 13 runs scored over his last 21 games, and virtually that entire stretch has come while he worries for his wife and cares for his kids. He’s batting .362 with runners in scoring position this season, and he’s 8-for-13 with a runner on third and two out, including his ninth-inning single Friday. He’s now batting around .320 on balls put in play, down from his past two seasons, but still better than his .315 BABIP in 2006 or his .316 career clip.

Is he a hitter on the downside of his career? Sure looks like it at age 35. But save the dramatics for the DH in Boston. Unlike David Ortiz now and Gary Sheffield last year, Ordonez is still hitting, but without the same authority. It isn’t what the Tigers need right now, but it’s better than what they could be getting.

For what it’s worth, he feels like he’s coming around.

“Mentally, I feel more relaxed, now that everything’s now fine, everything’s taken care of,” Ordonez said. “I’m just going to go out there, have fun, and try to help my team to win.”