Now looking to follow up that season, Ordonez put on a show in batting practice from what Leyland saw. The final stage of a healthy Ordonez, Leyland believes, is Ordonez being confident he's healthy.
Asked if Ordonez can improve defensively, Leyland said, "I think he got healthier by the day last year, for the most part, over his problems in the past with the knee and everything. And to be totally truthful, Magglio can play as good as he wants to play."
By that, Leyland meant everything -- defense, offense and baserunning. As much as Ordonez hustles, Leyland explained, his injuries, though history, are still an injury history.
"Magglio's a really good player, I think," Leyland said. "Probably at some points -- and I'm not talking about not playing hard -- I'm talking about I think Magglio is the type of player that is a little sensitive about his health and his knee. I think sometimes he's concerned about it.
"I'm not talking about not playing hard. That's not an issue. What I'm talking about is because he's had some injuries, I think at times he's reluctant to take a chance because of some past injuries. This guy's a heckuva player, and I think he's a heckuva hitter. When Magglio Ordonez feels he's totally healthy, on a given four- or five-day period, there ain't no telling what you might see. If he's in a four- or five-day period where something doesn't feel right, he still plays, but he's a little more reserved about it."
It's one of those traits Leyland has tried to hone over his years as a manager. He looks for the signs when a player's feeling healthy and when he isn't. It took him a while to figure it out with Ordonez, Leyland admitted, but he saw it.
"People get confused with not hustling and not feeling just right," Leyland said. "I can tell, for the most part, when Magglio felt real good. I can tell the way he got a jump on the ball. I can tell the way he went after the ball. And I can tell the days when Magglio wasn't feeling real good. The leg was maybe a little tender, or he was a little concerned about blowing a tire or something. That's one of the things you try to learn about your players, and I think I noticed that."
Ordonez averaged 157 games a season from 1999-2003 before an outfield collision started his run of knee problems. A torn meniscus led to surgery in June 2004. He returned later that summer for 10 games before knee trouble again forced him to the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as bone marrow edema.
He was given a clean bill of health upon signing with the Tigers before the 2005 season. But just when he seemed ready to return to action, a bout of stomach problems were revealed to be a sports hernia, leading to surgery that knocked him out until the All-Star break. He has played in 238 out of a possible 251 games since then, including 155 last regular season and all 13 postseason contests. Only Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson played in more games in 2006.
Swing away, or not: To break up the monotony of fielding practice and bullpen sessions, Leyland has let his pitchers take batting practice the last couple of days, though most of the work involves bunting. Leyland got into the act Thursday by pitching to his pitchers and letting them take their swings.
So when asked for his star of the day on Thursday, Leyland cited Joel Zumaya.
"He looked pretty good at the plate," Leyland said. "He's never going to get a chance to hit, but he looked good, anyway. He likes to hit. He's an athlete, that guy. You'd be surprised. You put that bat in his hands, he's a force. He's strong."
The BP keeps things loose, Nate Robertson suggested. "You can see who can hit, who can't," he said. "More importantly, you see who can bunt, who can't."
Just stay out of the way of flying bats. Reliever Bobby Seay was hit in the midsection Wednesday by a bat that flew out of one pitcher's hands. He was OK, but the story was still being traded around a day later.
Sunny outlook for Sunshine State: If the Indians and Dodgers follow through with plans to move their Spring Training homes to Arizona in the next few years, it'll mean two less teams for the Tigers to face in spring games. Whether or not that increases the long trips around the state for the Tigers remains to be seen, but Leyland would rather not have his players riding the bus too long.
"To be honest with you," Leyland said, "I think it's important in the spring to not get yourself in a situation where you're going too far all the time. Maybe that sounds terrible for a manager, but I really believe that. You get to Spring Training, you don't want to be making three-hour trips all the time. You like to see as many teams as possible, I guess, but geographically, you want something that's reasonable in Spring Training."
For what it's worth, Leyland prefers training in Florida to Arizona. "I'm a Florida trainer," he said. "I don't like training in Arizona. You don't sweat [in Arizona]."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less