DENVER -- Finally, after a slow start to his career, Dexter Fowler is in a good place at the top of the lineup.And all he needed to become one of the top leadoff hitters in the National League was to spend a little time in the No. 8 hole. Fowler opened the season with the Rockies hitting second, behind Marco Scutaro. But he struggled through the first month of the season, hitting .240 with a .313 on-base percentage, and striking out twice as much as he was walking. By May 3, Fowler found himself hitting in the bottom of the lineup, where he didn't fare much better, managing just nine hits in the next 20 games as the Rockies went 4-16. Fowler's commitment and plate approach were being questioned, and his spot in center field was in jeopardy with offseason acquisition Tyler Colvin stringing together a solid month. One day -- two games -- helped Fowler reverse his season, and perhaps his career. Fowler walked into the clubhouse on the morning of May 28 and saw his name at leadoff. In the first game of a Memorial Day doubleheader, the 26-year-old center fielder finished 3-for-5. The nightcap was even better -- 4-for-4, with a leadoff home run, a walk-off triple in the bottom of the 10th inning and a face full of shaving cream. Fowler hit another home run May 30 in a 2-for-5, three-RBI effort to string together the best three-game stretch of his career -- nine hits, two homers, six RBIs. He hasn't looked back since, and he has the lineup demotion to thank for it. "I wasn't patient at the plate early in the year, but hitting eighth made me be, because you've got the pitcher behind you and you can't know if they're trying to work around you or go right at you," Fowler said Wednesday after hitting his 12th homer of the season, against the Pirates. "I really don't think at the plate any more, I just go out and play." Since the start of the series against Houston, Fowler is hitting .350 with six homers and 19 RBIs. His power has been such a pleasant surprise manager Jim Tracy even hit him third Tuesday against the Pirates, where he went 2-for-3 with two walks. But there's no question that Fowler, the No 14 overall pick in the 2004 Draft, needs to be hitting at the top of the order. Among National League players hitting No. 1, Fowler is first in average (.350), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging percentage (.580). "It's awesome, it's always a blessing when you're hitting," Fowler said. "I wish we were winning a little more, but that'll come. It's important for me to try to get better each and every day." The Rockies are last in the National League West, victimized by a Majors-worst starting staff, but Fowler is quietly making a case for himself as one of the best young outfielders in the game. "Of course I'm biased, but I think I'm amongst the greats playing the game right now," said Fowler, who was drafted within a year of Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp and Adam Jones. "They're all great outfielders, and I'm right there with them." The ascents to stardom by McCutchen, Kemp and Jones, and their and ability to put the ball over the fences led a motivated Fowler -- who has never finished a season hitting higher than .266 -- to gain 13 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which has helped him double his career-high six home runs in 2010. "I do want to be like those guys in that regard," he said. "I always had the power in me, I just had to get to know my swing and better utilize my strength." In the recent three-game series against the Pirates, Fowler finished 4-for-11 with one homer, two RBIs and three walks, while McCutchen went 4-for-12 with one homer, one RBI and two walks. Fowler wears No. 24 to emulate his childhood favorite, Ken Griffey Jr. A very lanky 6-foot-4, Fowler will never smack close to 40 home runs in a season, but like Griffey, he plays with an air of swagger and a flair for the dramatic. Take Monday against the Pirates, for example. Fowler robbed Rod Barajas of a home run early in the game, flying into the center field wall, then delivered a game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. "Dexter Fowler continues to surge, he continues to take terrific at-bats," Tracy said. With Troy Tulowitzki out another month, and no pitching help on the way, the Rockies (35-56) are on pace for their first 100-loss season in franchise history. It hasn't at all been a season to remember, but the emergence of Fowler as a franchise player has been a saving grace. "It's always tough when you lose, but our team is going to get better," Fowler said. "This is a good place for me."
Trey Scott is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.