Fowler focused on extra-base hits

Fowler focused on extra-base hits

Fowler focused on extra-base hits
DENVER -- For many high-in-the-batting-order players with speed, the approach is to hit the ball on the ground. An infield hit, followed by a stolen base, is as good as a double. But the Rockies' Dexter Fowler doesn't fit that description.

Fowler is 6-foot-4 with long arms and a decent level of strength. When he's going well, whether he is in the leadoff spot or the second spot he currently occupies, his approach is to drive balls to the gaps. Why worry about stealing second when he can get there, or to third, out of the batter's box?

The only problem with the approach is that when he's struggling, he strikes out, pops up and generally looks bad. But Wednesday night's two-double, three-hit performance in a 17-8 victory over the Giants was an illustration of why he didn't change his approach during a 1-for-11 start to the season. The pleas to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed to first base, then work from there, aren't ones Fowler is hearing.

"With me, it is doubles and triples," said Fowler, a switch-hitter who doubled from each side of the plate Wednesday night. "That's what I do and what they want me to do. You can't really hit the ball in the gap on the ground.

"That's what everybody says [hit the ball on the ground]. I don't care what everybody says. It's my game. You go talk to the manager, ask him what he wants, or my hitting coach or the general manager. They want me to stay where I am. If the ball is in the gap, it's in the air."

Fowler said he has tried the ground-base approach. It didn't work for him.

"I tend to roll over balls and I feel myself guiding the ball," Fowler said.

Even though he has slumped and been demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs each of the last two years, Fowler has led the Majors in triples each year, and his 39 triples from 2009 through 2011 tied him with the Phillies' Shane Victorino for most in the Majors. He also has 87 career doubles since 2009.

So the proper approach for Fowler isn't necessarily to keep the ball out of the air, but keep the ball out of the air for long.

"I don't want him to hit a lot of fly balls, and he doesn't need to be a home run hitter, but I want him to be a line-drive/hard ground-ball type hitter," Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford said.

The problem through Spring Training and the first four games hasn't been his approach but his mechanics, because he lost the timing of his leg kick. A minor adjustment of moving his back foot closer to the plate that he made Wednesday helped keep him in position to drive the ball.

Manager Jim Tracy also wanted to make sure Fowler kept his confidence. After seeing Fowler wilt when his playing time became inconsistent during the first half of last year, and seeing him flourish in the second half when he played regularly, Tracy is dedicated to letting Fowler play through his early slump.

"I wanted to reiterate to him yesterday that I don't care if your batting average looks like a bingo number right now, you're going to go out there, play and raise it up," Tracy said.