Fresh start: Healthy Ordonez ready to go

Fresh start: Ordonez feels healthy, strong

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Magglio Ordonez didn't exactly step right off the bus and hit. He doesn't need mass transit. Instead, he stepped out of his car and hit.

Ordonez arrived at Tigers camp Sunday morning, put on his gear, warmed up and went to batting practice. He hit about as much as he could on another field while Tigers pitchers and catchers worked out. When that was over, he hit some more in the cage.

"I hadn't hit from the last game of the season," he said. "And I hit today, and it felt good."

Already, he could feel the difference his health made in his swing, especially his power. Considering the way his health affected his camp last year, simply having the time to swing was progress.

A year ago at this time, Ordonez was more focused on his knee than his swing. He was still recovering from surgery, and he had to rehab to play catchup. Just when the left knee seemed fine, he came down with a stomach problem that turned out to be a hernia.

Ordonez missed much of the next three months. With all that time off, his Spring Training was in July, and his recovery time was non-existent.

His hitting stroke never left; his .302 average marked his sixth .300 season in seven years. But he didn't have the same power to drive those hits. His eight homers marked his lowest total in any of his Major League seasons, and his .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since his first full big-league campaign in 1998.

Much of that power, or lack thereof, comes from the lower body.

"Last year I played like half a machine," he said. "Last year I didn't feel strong. ... I didn't feel like before. I lost so much time that it's hard to get your power and your speed and your strength back."

Considering the way Ordonez's season went, the postseason was one final punch in the stomach. He was a popular target for White Sox fans every time he played there after leaving Chicago for Detroit. Watching his former team run through the playoffs was added punishment.

"I was watching those games in Venezuela," he said. "It's hard to see all your teammates win the World Series, and you spent all your career [there] and you left one year early. It's something that you don't control. I didn't know they were going to win the World Series."

The only thing he could control about it was the remote.

"I didn't watch the whole game," he admitted. "I just turned on the TV and they're winning. I feel sad I wasn't there. I was happy for [Paul] Konerko, [Mark] Buehrle, all the guys that I played with, all the people in the front office. I was really happy for them."

Happy for them, but sad for himself. He had about as much power over his situation as he did in his swing. Getting that power back was one big motivation to hit the training hard once he finally could this winter. It shows in his noticeably stronger physique.

"This offseason I had a chance to work really hard and get all power and speed back," he said. "When you hurt your knee, you have to rehab first, and then you have to work through the pain and get strong and fast.

"I know my knee is fine and my body is healthy -- 100 percent."

To manager Jim Leyland, that's the key, not his bat. Leyland won't rule out using Ordonez as the DH on occasion if it can get him some rest. Even if he doesn't, though, Ordonez will get days off.

"He's a professional hitter. I'm not worried about him," Leyland said. "If he's healthy, he's going to hit. It's that simple. He's got a good swing, stays through the ball. He's got a track record, so that's in the book."

After playing just 134 games over the last two years, Ordonez knows the same thing. It's almost a distant memory that Ordonez used to be among the most reliable players in the game. He played at least 153 games in five consecutive seasons starting in 1999 and capped by 160 games in 2003, before his knee injury put his durability in question.

In that vein, it's understandable when Ordonez initially said he wants to play in 162 games. Considering his last two years, though, that would be a feat.

"I want to be healthy from Day 1 to game 162," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to play 162, but I want to go from the first to the last game healthy."

How the World Baseball Classic fits into that is still a tricky situation. Ordonez wants to take part, and with baseball-crazy Venezuela coming off a victory in the Caribbean Series, the feeling is mutual. However, he wants to make sure his timing and power are back, and he needs to ensure he won't be playing all nine innings every game.

"I've got a lot of pressure from my country," Ordonez said. "I really have to make sure I'm going to be 100 percent, not healthwise, but swinging and running. We're going to play against another country in basically two weeks."

Before he decides once and for all, he plans to talk with head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. He's already heard from his home country.

"This is a big thing," he said. "You know in soccer they do the World Cup, and you know how those countries get crazy. People in Venezuela, they think it's going to be like the World Cup."

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.