DETROIT -- The first Tigers player to a see a regular-season pitch this season was not Curtis Granderson. But while Edgar Renteria is a new face in a Tigers uniform, he's far from new in the leadoff spot.

He's one of the rare Major Leaguers to have hit in every spot in the order over the course of his 12-year career, but with 279 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, he has close to a half-season of experience. Most of those at-bats were during his younger days in Florida and St. Louis.

As Renteria admitted Monday, it's been a while. It might have looked that way in his first at-bat, a three-pitch strikeout.

"Yeah, it'll be different," Renteria said Monday morning. "I've got more experience. I know how to hit a little bit more. And in that day, I had some speed."

The key to leading off for him, however, hasn't changed. He has to be patient and make the pitcher work. And at that, he's a better hitter than he was during his earlier leadoff days.

Renteria's average of 3.83 pitches per plate appearance last year in Atlanta was by far a career high for him. That average has gone up for him in each of the past five seasons, now accounting for an additional pitch for every three plate appearances compared to 2003. When he last had any substantial at-bats in the leadoff spot back in 2001, his average was at 3.53.

"You have to see some pitches, take some pitches, because the big guys are coming behind you," Renteria said. "To me, the No. 1 spot, it's important. That's the way I take it. You have to work the pitcher. You have to get on base. You have to do everything to get on base."

Most of Renteria's patience the past few years, however, has come batting closer to the middle of the order. He batted second or third for all but a handful of games over the past two seasons with the Braves, with whom he racked up 127 RBIs over 273 games. It's a role in which he admits he's more comfortable.

"I like to be in big situations, to get a key RBI," Renteria said Monday morning. "I'm patient in those situations, and that helps me a lot."

That's one of the things manager Jim Leyland likes about Renteria, and one of the reasons the skipper liked him in the seventh spot before Granderson broke his right middle finger a week and a half ago.

"If you look at his RBIs, it's not that he's been a huge, huge RBI guy," Leyland said. "But he's been one of the best in baseball at knocking in huge RBIs. His numbers aren't huge, but when he knocks in 70, there's a good chance that those 70 are more important than somebody else's 70.

"In other words, he knocks in the big ones at the right time."

He had mixed success at that in his first game as a Tiger. After his first-inning strikeout, Renteria came up again with two on and two outs in the second inning and delivered a bouncing ball through the middle to put the Tigers on the scoreboard.

That momentum didn't last. With the potential tying run on third and one out in the 11th, Renteria struck out swinging on a nasty pitch from Royals reliever Joakim Soria that broke sharply out of the zone.

How rare was it? Renteria struck out just twice in 46 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs over the last two years.

"The furthest thing from my mind at the end of the game was Edgar Renteria striking out [in that situation]," Leyland said afterwards. "You don't see that very often."