Sleeker Rowand seeks success at top

Sleeker Rowand seeks success at top

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Having successfully lost weight, Aaron Rowand is turning his attention to shedding disappointment.

Rowand admitted without prompting Friday that his Giants tenure has been underwhelming. With three years left on his five-year, $60 million contract, he still has ample opportunity to reverse his fortunes. This season would be an opportune time for Rowand to sustain a renaissance, since he'll occupy a key role as San Francisco's leadoff hitter.

Rowand has downplayed moving to the top of the order, not only noting that he has previously occupied this role but also pointing out that in many games he'll bat first exactly once.

However, Rowand did not minimize his struggles as a Giant, which statistics plainly reflect. In seven Major League seasons before joining San Francisco, Rowand hit .286 with a .343 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage for the White Sox and Phillies. His corresponding averages as a Giant are .266, .329 and .414. His 28 home runs in 2008-09 exceed by one the total he amassed in 2007 with Philadelphia.

"I wasn't satisfied with the two years that I've had here," Rowand said. "I don't think I've done what I felt I could have done, as far as hitting goes. I feel like I can be better in the outfield. I feel like I can improve in all parts of my game."

Rowand's aware of the boos he has drawn from fans at AT&T Park, where he has hit .250 as a Giant.

"I know the fans have been hard on me at times. And I don't blame them," he said. "But nobody's harder on me than me. I don't play this game to try to be mediocre. I want to try to be the best at what I do."

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Rowand's desire for improvement motivated him to sculpt himself to approximately 215 pounds during the offseason, compared with his season-opening weight of 225 last year. At 32, Rowand realized he needed to make age-related concessions. So he watched his diet, increased his cardiovascular exercise and went on 20- to 25-mile bicycle rides four days a week near his Las Vegas home.

"I'm not saying I'm old by any means. I'm in the middle of my career," Rowand said. "But when you start getting into your early 30s, you realize your metabolism starts slowing down. I could play center field at 222, 225 like I have in the last few years. But I made the decision of wanting to be better. I wanted to be faster. I wanted to be quicker. You strap a 10-, 15-pound weight on your back and try to do the same stuff, you realize that even though your body adjusts to carrying that weight, you're not going to be quite as fast or quick."

Rowand intensified his training weeks before Giants manager Bruce Bochy telephoned him to ask him about batting leadoff.

"He knew the answer before he even asked the question," Rowand said.

Bochy's reasoning for trying Rowand at leadoff was simple.

"If you look at our lineup, he has the most experience," Bochy said. "He's our best option."

Aaron Rowand provided a jolt when he was moved into the leadoff spot last season. His statistics batting in different spots in 2009:
Batting Games Average OBP SLG
First 50 .294 .341 .468
Fifth 19 .183 .296 .267
Sixth 17 .226 .284 .403
Seventh 40 .287 .349 .463
Rowand had a productive 50-game stint as San Francisco's leadoff hitter last year, batting .294 with a .341 on-base percentage and a .468 slugging average. Before Rowand assumed that role on May 20, Giants leadoff batters had hit a combined .207. He responded by hitting .411 (30-for-73) during a 17-game hitting streak before cooling off. Still, the Giants became solid National League Wild Card contenders while Rowand batted first.

"We needed a little jolt then," Bochy recalled. "He really, I think, looked forward to the challenge and ran with it."

Though Rowand isn't a prototypical leadoff batter, being slightly slimmer should give him the mobility required of that role.

"I want to make an attempt to be more aggressive on the bases than I have," said Rowand, who also hit first extensively with the White Sox in 2004. "When you're hitting in the middle of the lineup and there are guys on base in front of you, sometimes it becomes station-to-station baseball. The flexibility of being able to be a little more aggressive on the bases from the leadoff spot is exciting."

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.