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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Smiles all around as Ordonez finds his hitting stroke

DETROIT - Magglio Ordonez smiles a lot these days, whether it's in the clubhouse or around the batting cage.

The four-time all-star right fielder is both healthy and happy for the first time in two years.

It's kind of hard to miss.

Ordonez has regained his hitting stroke, his power and his production.

He is finally earning his hefty paycheck with the Detroit Tigers, who got blasted in February of 2005 for signing Ordonez to the richest contract in franchise history - $75 million over five years - because of his troublesome left knee.

Detroit's Magglio Ordonez is batting .320 after last night's game with a team-high 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. Detroit's Magglio Ordonez is batting .320 after last night's game with a team-high 13 home runs and 42 RBIs.

After last night's 6-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park, Ordonez is hitting .320 and leads the Tigers in home runs (13) and RBIs (42) from his cleanup spot.

He already has surpassed his homer output (eight) from last year two months into the season.

"The old Maggs is back," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Ordonez said the last time he felt this good was 2002, when he established career highs for batting average (.320), runs (116), total bases (352), doubles (47), homers (38) and RBIs (135) for the Chicago White Sox.

That's good news for the Tigers.

A healthy Ordonez gives Detroit its best No. 4 hitter since Cecil Fielder, who socked 160 home runs and drove in 506 runs during a four-year span in the early 1990s.

Magglio averaged 32 homers and 118 RBIs and batted .300 or better for the White Sox in the five years prior to his injury-ravaged 2004 season, when he played in just 52 games and had two stints on the disabled list.

"I've been working the last two years to try and get back to where I used to be, and now I'm back," said Ordonez, who hit seven homers and drove in 21 runs in the month of May. "I feel good."

Ordonez, 32, appeared in just three games with Detroit last year before landing on the disabled list. He ended up missing half of the season after having surgery to repair a sports hernia April 27 and didn't rejoin the Tigers until July 1.

He batted .302 with 46 RBIs in 82 games and had a career-best 20-game hitting streak, but Ordonez didn't exhibit much power.

Even so, his fielding was superb - he didn't commit an error in his last 61 games, a total of 111 chances.

"Last year was a very frustrating year for me," Ordonez said. "I felt bad. The Tigers made this big commitment to me and I got hurt right away. When you're hurt and your team is losing like we did last year, it's not any fun. But this year it's totally different.

"I feel great and I'm having fun. Hopefully, I can keep swinging a hot bat."

Ordonez, who collected his 200th career homer off Minnesota's Francisco Liriano on April 29, has finally provided the Tigers with a reasonable return on their investment.

Magglio is one of the big reasons why Detroit is off to such a surprisingly hot start.

Not only is his bat much quicker, so is his speed.

"Magglio's doing all the little things that all-star players do on both offense and defense," center fielder Curtis Granderson said.

"He's a completely different player than he was last year. He's healthy and he has his confidence back."

And that has a lot of people smiling, including Ordonez.

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