Rowand steadily improving

Rowand making steady improvement at camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Rowand insists his surgically repaired left ankle is fine.

Everything else is a problem.

The center fielder has already endured two spring mishaps. He accidentally kicked a curb and hobbled around the clubhouse for two days, then skinned his finger slicing an onion, costing him two days of batting practice.

"Dumb stuff," Rowand said. "It's an ongoing joke around here, because stuff like that just happens to me. I'm a bull in a china shop."

While teammate Chris Coste contends that players should keep Rowand "at a safe distance" to avoid injury, Rowand offered this defense:

"I had my sandals on and I was walking into Starbucks," he said. "There was a step and I didn't see it, so I stubbed my toe. With the onion, I just wasn't looking."

Rowand is looking straight ahead now, at the single-minded goal of contributing in 155-162 games for the Phillies. Evidence remains of his season-ending injury, as he still wraps his ankle and spends about a half hour each day between the hot tub and treadmill.

He's also worn cleats for three weeks while working out, rather than turf shoes.

"I'm trying to get used to it," Rowand said. "You can wear shoes all you want, but when you get the spikes on and they grab in the dirt and on the grass, it puts extra torque on your ankle. For me, wearing cleats every day is helping me get readjusted."

Rowand admits that the ankle was "tender and stiff" after his first day in cleats, and felt next-day soreness, but it's been steadily improving since.

The cleats serve a larger purpose for Rowand, and he's passed a few self-imposed baserunning tests. With Rowand, there can't be any physical doubt since the veteran only knows one speed.

"I need to make sure," he said. "I don't want to have any apprehension. It's stiff here and there, but the team doctor said I'm going to have it through Spring Training. It's an adjustment period getting your ankle used to cutting and slashing in cleats. Still, it's like night and day compared to when I first got here."

Rowand bristles at the notion that his injuries were a result of recklessness. To him, hard is the only way to play, and there's a big difference to him. Sure, he's separated shoulders making catches and banged up his arms and legs plowing into catchers or whoever else may stand in his way. He gets hit by pitches -- a lot -- but usually shakes them off in a day or so.

Because of that style, his skeptics said his stint on the disabled list was inevitable and were proved right in May, when Rowand broke his nose and left orbital bones making a catch, then crashing into the center-field wall.

"In my eyes, I play the game hard, not out of control," Rowand said. "I'm going to try to make plays."

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If not for the divot in the Wrigley Field outfield, Rowand wouldn't have stumbled into Chase Utley, and likely wouldn't have broken his ankle, qualifying it as a freak accident in his mind.

As a result, Rowand's mornings start around 7:15 a.m. ET, with 10-15 minutes in the hot tub for heat and range-of-motion exercises. He then tapes the ankle and works out on the treadmill. He'll do less and less as the regular season approaches and the ankle gets stronger.

Rowand has maintained his high-energy outlook throughout camp. He's typically one of the last players to leave the clubhouse because he can't stop socializing. This includes being the recipient of many jokes at his expense, whether it be about his bowling or barbecuing skills.

"It's OK," he said. "I'm more than willing to make fun of myself to get a laugh out of everybody else."

Rowand doesn't laugh when discussing his first season in Philadelphia -- the inconsistency and the injuries bother him -- and the persistent trade rumors that dogged him this winter. He was going to the White Sox at one point for Freddy Garcia, then later to the Padres for Scott Linebrink. The Phillies obviously landed Garcia without including Rowand, and the San Diego deal never picked up steam.

He was batting .310 before crashing into the wall, then hit .223 in June and July combined. Overall, he hit .262, with 12 homers and 47 RBIs -- his fewest in both categories since 2003.

"Last year wasn't good because I kept getting hurt," he said. "I know I can do better. I have a lot more in me. I look at last year as a freak season."

Manager Charlie Manuel agreed.

"The injuries definitely affected him," Manuel said. "But his heart and his intangibles, the things he brings to the game, they go beyond numbers."

And, at the suggestion that he should wear a foam-rubber suit, on and off the field, Rowand and said, "Doubtful, but I may invest in a padded room at home."

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