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Manager Jim Leyland said before Wednesday night's game against the Kansas City Royals that Clete Thomas -- newly recalled from Toledo -- will start against right-handers and the still-struggling Ordonez will start against left-handers. Righty Zack Greinke started Wednesday night.
Ordonez, who is 166 plate appearances shy of having an $18 million contract option kick in for next year, is hitting .260 with four homers and 28 RBIs.
He is 1-for-10 in three games since Saturday -- when he had more than one extra-base hit (double, home run) for the first time this season.
In a platoon system, if it continues the rest of the year, getting the required number of plate appearances will be difficult.
Ordonez knows his lack of hitting has forced the Tigers to make this kind of decision, however.
"When I produce, I play," he said.
Leyland wanted it fully understood, however, that Ordonez has not been benched.
"I would definitely call this a platoon," Leyland said. "I don't know how it's going to play out, but this is what we're going to do. We're just trying to get a combination that sparks more often."
The Tigers recalled Thomas from Toledo on Wednesday. At the same time, they designated Don Kelly for assignment.
"I got reports that (Thomas) has done pretty well," Leyland said. "He has a chance to be a complete player. Is he ready for that? I don't know. But I wouldn't have brought him up if I wasn't going to play him."
The Tigers have played 84 games and faced 27 left-handed starting pitchers. That's typical, as lefties typically account for roughly a third of the innings. The Tigers have 78 games left, so we might assume they'll see 26 lefty starters. In a strict platoon, Ordonez would start 26 more games. These days he's batting toward the bottom of the order, and if he stays there he would pick up roughly 100 plate appearances in those 26 games.
So yeah, getting 166 more plate appearances will be exceptionally difficult if the platoon continues. Of course, there's a chance that Clete Thomas will get hurt, or won't hit -- he never really has, before. But there's also a chance that Ordonez will get hurt, or will continue to not hit. In which case even 100 plate appearances would be a stretch.
Two years ago, Ordonez won a batting title and finished second in the MVP voting. We knew he was over his head, but still: last year his numbers were right in line with his career norms, which are modestly impressive. This year his performance has fallen off a cliff. Nobody seems to know why. But at least he seems to have a good attitude about it.