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Spring could prove pivotal for Rowand

Spring could prove pivotal for Rowand

Spring could prove pivotal for Rowand
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Aaron Rowand could prove to be one of the most scrutinized Giants this spring, eclipsing stars such as Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey or a player on the rebound like Pablo Sandoval.

Common sense dictates that the Giants will listen eagerly to any trade overtures involving Rowand, who has slipped to reserve status yet is owed $12 million in each of the next two seasons.

The Giants almost surely would have to assume most or all of Rowand's remaining salary to consummate a deal, unless they were to receive a comparably paid player in return or find a remarkably pliant trade partner, as they did in 2007 when Pittsburgh took right-hander Matt Morris and the $13.5 million remaining on his contract.

Rowand's .230 batting average and .659 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 2010 represented career lows. But he might be able to transform himself into a desired commodity if he duplicates his Cactus League performance of a year ago, when he hit .429 with a 1.117 OPS.

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Rowand took a step toward another productive spring Friday by slicing a second-inning RBI double in three at-bats as the Giants opened their Cactus League season by outlasting the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-6.

Rowand has remained stoic regarding his situation. "Show up, do all your work, be diligent about getting yourself ready and then go home. That's pretty much it," he said.

The 33-year-old ignored last year's intermittent rumors involving a trade that would return Rowand to the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he played in 2006-07 before signing a five-year, $60 million contract with the Giants as a free agent.

"Most of the time it's all speculation," Rowand said. "It's not even worth getting all worked up about."

Rowand indicated that he won't get all worked up if he stays with San Francisco as Andres Torres' backup in center field. He's maintaining a regular's outlook in case circumstances summon him from the bench. "That's what I did this offseason, prepare myself for playing," Rowand said. "Then you don't get surprised."

Though Rowand appeared in 98 games in left field with the Chicago White Sox during his first three Major League seasons (2001-03), he's not part of the Giants' competition for that spot.

"Right now I think it's best that he stays out in center field," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Said Rowand, "He's the boss. He makes the decisions. I have no input."

Rowand's fortunes plummeted last year shortly after Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla beaned him with a pitch on April 16, which left him with fractures in his left cheek and a concussion. He returned on May 2 and was still batting .321 on May 9, when he lined a two-run homer through swirling winds at New York to beat the Mets and enable the Giants to avoid a three-game series sweep.

Through the rest of the season, Rowand hit .202 in 88 games. He refused to attribute his slump to the disruption caused by Padilla's beaning.

"It threw a wrench in the thing. But what are you going to do? It's part of the game," Rowand said. "There's nothing you can do to change it. Of course, you wish it wouldn't have happened, but it did."

After Torres evolved into the starting center fielder, any remaining activity for Rowand dwindled with the acquisitions of Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. Ironically, Rowand welcomed their arrivals.

"I always enjoyed being around Cody," Rowand said. "Cody's a great guy, a great teammate. Same with Pat. Pat's one of my closest friends. Both of those moves cut into my playing time, but on the flip side of it, you gain being around some of your closest friends on a daily basis, which makes dealing with those things easier.

"You want to win games, ultimately. They both brought a lot to the table when they got here."

Rowand appeared in seven of San Francisco's 15 postseason games -- "I probably saw more action in the playoffs than I did over the course of the last month of the season," he said -- and contributed to the Giants' 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series by throwing out Carlos Ruiz at home plate. He also started Game 5 of the World Series, when the Giants secured their celebrated title.

"Obviously, it was neat to be on the field when we clinched," he said.

Rowand intensified his offseason conditioning, which featured more than 1,000 miles of cycling near his Las Vegas home. He began riding a stationary bike last September so he wouldn't fall too far behind his training partners. "He actually had one in the back of the [team] plane," utility man Mark DeRosa jokingly said.

Rowand also studied videos from at-bats during the 2007 season, when he hit .309 with 27 homers and 89 RBIs for Philadelphia. This prompted him to make two slight adjustments: Raising his hands and squatting less as he waits for a pitch. He's confident that his changes will produce tangible results.

"It's a new season," Rowand said. "You go about preparing yourself and whatever happens, happens."

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

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