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03/26/09 4:25 PM ET

Atkins taking it slow in prep for opener

Dealing with ailing hip, groin, infielder yet to return to Cactus action

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Rockies' Garrett Atkins is taking the slow road back to third base. But he has time to get there.

Manager Clint Hurdle said Tuesday that he thought Atkins, who has not played since March 10 because of hip flexor and groin strains, might be available for Thursday's game against the Dodgers. Atkins played a Minor League game Wednesday -- and hit a home run.

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But the third baseman said he would work out Thursday and play another Minor League game Friday and evaluate whether he can be back for Saturday's game against the Cubs at Hi Corbett Field.

The important game for Atkins is April 6. He also missed time earlier in the spring with the first occurrence of the hip flexor injury. Atkins has just 16 Cactus League at-bats, but he also has a some time to get ready.

"I would have liked to have had more time being out in the field in the batter's box, at game speed, but that wasn't really an option for me," Atkins said. "So now we're just going to try to handle things over the next 10 days or whatever it is, but hopefully by April 6 I'll be ready to go."

Atkins, an important right-handed hitter who could serve as the Rockies' cleanup man, considers himself a few steps from being ready physically. He went 2-for-5 in Wednesday's Minor League game, but did not play defensively.

"Playing the field is tougher just because the body is going in all different positions," Atkins said. You've got to make awkward throws, you have to dive, you don't know which direction you have to go. If you're in the batter's box and you're running the bases, you can at least consciously think about what you're trying to do.

"It felt a little weird running. There really wasn't any pain. I just hadn't run for awhile. With my swing, my timing was obviously off. It was nice to get out there and get into the batter's box."

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But for one at-bat, Atkins captured a feeling he hopes to have consistently. He was trying to move a runner and ran into a changeup that was left over the middle of the plate.

"I took a nice, easy swing, and it just went out of the ballpark," he said. "That was how my swing needs to be."

One player did return from injury on Thursday. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who hadn't played in a Cactus League game since being scratched Saturday because of back tightness, started against the Dodgers. Tulowitzki had to twist to catch a wind-blown James Loney popup in the first inning.

Right fielder Brad Hawpe was supposed to play six to seven innings in one of Colorado's Minor League games, but the Rockies did not conduct those contests Thursday.

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