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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

Ordonez's 0-for-4 debut isn't worrisome

DETROIT - Magglio Ordonez has more money in his pocket than Cecil Fielder has in the bank.

Ordonez also has a less extensive waistline - by a furlong or two.

But if you put bucks and bulk aside, there's not a whole lot of difference between the two sluggers, except Ordonez's twice-

repaired left knee.

Ordonez hits for power.

He drives in runs.

He hits for average.

Ordonez is the Detroit Tigers' best cleanup hitter since Fielder.

He averaged 32 home runs and 118 RBIs and batted .300 or better in the five seasons prior to his injury-ravaged 2004 season.

Fielder, meanwhile, belted 160 home runs and drove in 506 runs for the Tigers during a four-year span from 1990-93.

Ordonez has a quicker bat than Fielder.

And he makes better contact, although the ball might not carry as far for Ordonez in cavernous Comerica Park as it did for Fielder in nearby Tiger Stadium.

Nothing could get in the way of Ordonez making his Tigers debut yesterday.

Not an intestinal disorder known as diverticulitis, or even a new diet that forbids him from eating his favorite bean recipes.

"I wasn't going to miss this game for anything," Ordonez said. "I have a new team and new fans and I wanted to impress them."

Unfortunately, Ordonez's big bat was silent on opening day. He went 0-for-4 with a walk and run scored in the Tigers' 11-2 thrashing of Kansas City. He was upstaged by former cleanup hitter Dmitri Young's three-homer, five-RBI performance.

No big deal. The fact Ordonez was in the lineup at all shows his commitment to the Tigers.

"We're not worried about Magglio," center fielder Craig Monroe said. "Today was just one day."

The Tigers got ripped in the offseason for signing Ordonez to the richest contract in franchise history - $75 million over five years - because of his troublesome knee.

But team owner and pizza king Mike Ilitch decided to roll the dice and sign Ordonez. The year before, Ilitch gambled and won big with injury-prone catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Why not try it again?

Ordonez can make as much as $105 million over seven seasons under the complicated deal or as little as $6 million over one year.

The Tigers can void his contract after this season if the four-time All-Star spends 25 days or more on the disabled list with an injury to his left knee.

"He's an All-Star, the type of player you can build a franchise around," president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "And because of the circumstances, we were able to work out a contract that's good for both Magglio and us."

Ordonez is known strictly for his bat, and not his glove.

He is just a .259 hitter with one home run in 135 at-bats at Comerica Park, but the Tigers aren't worried.

They know if Ordonez's left knee holds up, he can hit the ball out of the park with the best of them. He has already proven that.

In the last six seasons, he has hit more home runs (169), collected more RBIs (627) and batted .300 more often (five times) than the other marquee free-agent sluggers on the market with him - Carlos Beltran (146 HR, 562 RBIs) and Adrian Beltre (140, 488).

Now that's power.

That's production.

That's big, fat numbers like Cecil Fielder used to put up.

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