03/20/11 12:35 PM ET
Atkins hoping to rekindle his career with Bucs
After rough '10 season, veteran seeking backup corner infield role
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Once an integral part of the Rockies' lineup, Atkins is very much clinging to his Major League life. He hasn't been all that productive since 2008, and Atkins might not have that many more opportunities to win a Major League roster spot if he is unable to capitalize on this chance with the Bucs.
Signed to a Minor League deal in December, Atkins hopes to win a spot on the Opening Day roster as a backup corner infielder.
He knew the competition would be stiff, as there are three others -- Andy Marte, Steve Pearce and Josh Fields -- vying for the same bench role. And Atkins has not, to this point, separated himself from the bunch with his results.
Entering Sunday, Atkins is 4-for-30. Three of those hits have been for extra bases, but Atkins has also struck out 16 times. More concerning, though, is the recent lack of results. Atkins has just one hit since March 3, a stretch that spans 21 at-bats.
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Atkins, an eight-year veteran, is the most seasoned of the four corner utility candidates. But that might mean little in the Pirates' final decision, which likely won't come until the final days of Spring Training.
"Obviously I've had some good years, and you just try to come in and show that you still have that ability and that talent," Atkins said. "If you're putting together quality at-bats and doing what the at-bat dictates, the hits don't really matter. If you take good at-bats, the coaches see that and the decision makers see that. The results are important, but more important is putting together quality at-bats every day."
A provision in Atkins' contract would allow him to ask to be released if he's not on the Opening Day roster. An $800,000 Major League salary would await him if the Pirates do carry him to Chicago on April 1.
That would certainly be a modest sum to Atkins, who has made more than $15 million over the past three seasons. That included $4 million from Baltimore last year, even though the club released Atkins just before the All-Star break.
With a .214 batting average and just one homer and nine RBIs in 140 at-bats, Atkins was not the answer that the O's envisioned when they inked him to a one-year deal the previous offseason. For the first time since being drafted by the Rockies in 2000, Atkins spent a summer without work.
And for the first time since '05, Atkins came into Spring Training knowing that an Opening Day roster spot was not assured.
"You try to learn from your experience and move on," Atkins said of his '10 season. "It was a bad year all the way around. You try to forget it and try to come to spring with a little better attitude and a better swing, hopefully."
The swing, Atkins hoped, would be aided by reuniting with Clint Hurdle, who was Atkins' manager for parts of seven seasons in Colorado. That included a four-year span in which Atkins batted .301, hit 88 homers and drove in 419 runs in 607 games.
He sustained a drop-off in production in '09 before scuffling further last year.
"What I see now is a man that understands he came up short," Hurdle said. "He wasn't the offensive player that he was before. I think he got in some bad habits, some mechanical situations that didn't work for him. When you lose confidence at the plate, it's a very hard thing to recapture when you can't find some success."
Atkins saw more than just Hurdle's presence when he mulled over Pittsburgh's offseason offer. He saw, too, an opportunity to fill a need. With Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez both being left-handed hitters, the Pirates do want a right-handed-hitting complement that could spell either corner infielder.
"The at-bats are going to dictate what my numbers can be," Atkins said. "But I think I can be a productive guy on a big league ball club."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.