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 TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -When Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins' usually reliable swing deserted him early last season, his teammates didn't fret.
They knew it would return.
``Not one person panicked,'' outfielder Ryan Spilborghs said. ``We've been around Garrett too long and know what he's capable of doing. He's just too good of a hitter.''
Although Atkins' final regular season stats ended up solid enough, it's a route he wouldn't want to travel again. He struggled mightily early, hit very well late and finished the season hitting .301 with 25 homers and 111 RBIs.
``I'd like to be more consistent instead of extreme lows and extreme highs,'' he said. ``I'd rather be pretty good the entire year rather than terrible and then really hot at the end.''
He's taking extra swings in the cage this March to avoid getting off to another frigid beginning. So far this spring, though, he's hitting .261. Prior to going 3-for-6 in the last two games, including his first spring home run on Thursday against the Angels, he was hitting just .225.
The Rockies aren't worried.
``He's in a good place,'' Rockies hitting coach Alan Cockrell said. ``I think you just focus on the things that you've done in the past that make you a good hitter. You don't try to make it more than it is.
``Even early last year, he hit a ton of balls hard right at people,'' Cockrell continued. ``He made more hard outs than anybody on our club - by a long shot. His timing and rhythm are getting better and better.''
After hitting just .223 through the first two months last season, Atkins found himself on the bench for two games to clear his mind. The break did wonders and he soon rediscovered his swing, hitting .338 from June until the end of the season.
``It was really frustrating,'' Atkins said of his early season slump. ``You find yourself thinking about the game night and day. You can't wait to get to the ballpark because the only way you're going to get out of it is by working.''
His teammates kept reassuring him that everything would turn out well.
``Garrett can hit,'' outfielder Matt Holliday said. ``Go ahead and mark him down for .300, 25 (homers) and 100 (RBIs). How far over those numbers he goes? I don't think we've seen the best of him yet.''
Atkins finally broke out of his funk in 2007 by taking a less-is-more approach. He stopped trying to crush the ball, and concentrated on making solid contact.
``Your 85-to-90 percent swing is going to be just as good as your 100 percent swing that's out of control,'' said Atkins, who has driven in 317 runs over the last three seasons, third-most among third baseman, trailing only Alex Rodriguez (400) and David Wright (324). ``I didn't worry about power numbers. I just got back to hitting line drives the other way like I've been doing my whole life.''
Although Atkins hit over .300 and drove in more than 100 runs for a second straight season, he and the club couldn't work out a long-term commitment over the winter.
Instead, the Rockies locked up a core group of players like Aaron Cook, Troy Tulowitzki, Manny Corpas, and Brad Hawpe, plus signing Holliday to a two-year deal.
Atkins doesn't feel left out - at least not yet.
``That's the way the game is,'' said Atkins, who avoided arbitration in the offseason by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $4,387,500. ``I understand. They're really good players and they're going to be here for a while. It should be fun to play with them.''
The 28-year-old remains hopeful that he and the team can eventually work out a long-term arrangement.
Right now, though, he's more concerned with hits than money.
``Of course I want to stay here,'' Atkins said. ``It's the organization that signed me and developed me. We won an NL pennant last year and we have some unfinished business. I want to be here and be a part of that. But I'm not worried about that now. My goal is to just get my swing right.''
His teammates aren't the least bit concerned with his swing.
``You don't have to worry about him,'' first baseman Todd Helton said. ``He's always going to hit.''

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