Notes: Atkins delivering at the dish
Colorado third baseman making run at .300 average
SAN DIEGO -- Baseball's appeal for some is they can apply mathematics in a fun way. But Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins and his teammates can do without the calculators.
They've won five straight, yet Friday night they entered a series with the National League Wild Card-leading Padres with nine games left to make up a 4 1/2-game gap. They also need to overcome the Phillies, who are two games in front of them.
That's why the Rockies fall into the category of those who pick up a bat and a ball because they don't care much for difficult numbers crunching.
"I don't think anybody in here is smart enough to try to calculate what we need to do," Atkins said. "We're just coming each day and trying to get as many wins as we can. At the end of the year, we'll see where we're at, and hopefully it's good enough. If not, we've played our best and given ourselves a shot."
In Atkins' case, the numbers tell a story of redemption.
After hitting .326 with 29 home runs and 120 RBIs last season, Atkins was as low as .223 through June 1. Yet, he has quietly sizzled during the second half and heads into Friday night at .295, with a strong chance to climb above a .300 plateau that seemed unreachable three months ago. He also has 23 homers and 103 RBIs.
"Obviously going into the season, that was my goal -- to hit over .300," Atkins said. "You kind of have to change your goals a little bit after you struggle. But I have the opportunity to get there. It's something I'm proud of, and to do it against the type of pitching we've had to do it against lately is pretty exciting.
"Sometimes it takes awhile to get your swing. You're trying to remember how you swung the year before and try to get back to that. You think, 'Wow, I hit 29 home runs or whatever. I must've been trying to do different things.' But it's getting back to seeing the ball and hitting line drives, and if I get the ball up into the air, it's going to be a home run."
Atkins has hits in 18 of his last 20 games and multiple hits in seven of his last eight. He knocked in 48 runs in 53 games going into Friday. His production is exactly what manager Clint Hurdle expected going into the season, and what Hurdle sought during conversations with Atkins through the days of struggle.
"It was more hitting coach-to-player," Hurdle said. "We were talking about the dynamics of the swing and the thought process involved. More often than not, the mechanics of the swing are being dictated by the thoughts that are being processed by the mind. You've got to find out where the thoughts are coming from and what the thoughts are all about.
"He was able to get through it, and obviously the numbers he's put up down the stretch, the last couple of months included, are very impressive."
Atkins' late surge has been overshadowed by the work of left fielder Matt Holliday, whose offensive season could go down as one of the best in history, and first baseman Todd Helton, who is playing as a veteran leader should.
But if a limited history holds, Atkins could be a front-and-center figure Friday night. He is one of few Rockies with a history of success against Padres starter and Cy Young Award favorite Jake Peavy. Atkins has a .417 batting average (5-for-12) against Peavy, with one RBI.
"It's going to be a challenge, especially in their ballpark," Atkins said. "Pitchers always feel better there. We haven't seen him since April. I've only seen him a couple of times. We know he's going to come at us. We know he's not going to give in. We know it's going to be tough because he's a great competitor."
Close eye: With a large lead in Thursday afternoon's 9-4 victory over the Dodgers, Hurdle removed second baseman Kazuo Matsui after he had gone 3-for-3. It was Matsui's first start since he suffered a right hamstring strain on Sept. 8.
"We protected him yesterday," Hurdle said. "I'm just trying to get a feeling as we go through the game, take his temperature throughout the game.
"Contrary to popular belief, we'd like to win all three here, but if we don't win all three, we're not out of it. It's still touch and feel. By no means am I going to push him, break him, just to get him out there as often as we can."
On the Rox: When right fielder Brad Hawpe improved his RBI total to 101 on Thursday, the Rockies became the first team in the Major Leagues this season with three players in triple figures in that category. Holliday, with a league-leading 131, and Atkins are the other two. ... Holliday and the Tigers' Magglio Ordonez are the first players since the Orioles' Miguel Tejada in 2004 with 200 hits and 130 RBIs in a season.
Up next: Lefty Mark Redman (1-4, 9.28 ERA), who has pitched 10 strong innings in his last two appearances, including one start, will start for the Rockies against the Padres and righty Jack Cassel (1-0, 2.87) on Saturday night at 8:05 MT.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.