Garrett Atkins' benching began big second-half comeback for third baseman and his team Print
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Tuesday, 09 October 2007 14:14
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 DENVER (AP) -Garrett Atkins found the difference between a spot in the playoffs and a place on the bench was surprisingly subtle.
Stuck in a two-month slump to start the season, Atkins got pulled from the Colorado lineup in early June. Riding the pine for two days, he hated the view.
So he raised his back elbow a bit, torqued his body a tad and kept his hands back, all of which allowed him to do better with offspeed pitches and hit more to the opposite field.
Basically, he'd rediscovered his old swing.
``I don't know what it was. I was just struggling for long enough and it was just that I found my stroke and things started happening a little better for me,'' Atkins said. ``As you can see, you just kind of roll with it and good things happen.''
At the time of his benching, the 26-year-old power hitter was batting .223. After a couple of games next to manager Clint Hurdle, Atkins went on a tear, hitting .338 with 22 home runs and 91 RBIs the rest of the way and helping lead the Rockies to the NL wild-card berth.
``It's a different look,'' Hurdle said. ``Sometimes when you rearrange the furniture in your house, you have to find a different way across the room.''
With wins in 17 of their last 18 games, including a sweep of the Phillies in the first round, the Rockies start the NL championship series Thursday night at Arizona.
Atkins wound up hitting .301 overall with 25 homers and 111 RBIs, similar to his breakout season last year when he hit .329 with 29 homers and 120 RBIs.
The third baseman also improved in the field, cutting down his errors from 19 to 13.
Hurdle said one of the biggest things he learned during his playing days was that sometimes the best way to pick a guy up is to sit him down.
A similar mental break in May also snapped Troy Tulowitzki out of his slow start and the shortstop had a spectacular season that could earn him both a Gold Glove and the Rookie of the Year award.
Like most players, Atkins didn't appreciate sitting down. At least not at first.
``You'd like to think that you don't need it and you're ready to go out there and play every day,'' he said. ``But sometimes you need to take a step back and kind of re-evaluate the way that you're going about your work and the things that aren't working.''
So, he changed his ways.
``I think it was probably more physical, the approach and the swing,'' Atkins said. ``It just wasn't going, it wasn't working. I had to step back and realize the kind of hitter I am and not try to do too much.''
Atkins' resurgence also made Hurdle's big offseason adjustment work out.
During the offseason, the manager decided to flip-flop cleanup man Matt Holliday with No. 3 hitter Todd Helton so that he could split up his lefties and righties in the lineup.
Holliday put up MVP-type numbers (.340, 36, 137); Helton was his usually steady self (.320, 17, 91) and Brad Hawpe (.291, 29, 116) had a strong finish against left-handed pitching and drove in a club record 66 runs with two outs.
Yet is was Kaz Matsui and Yorvit Torrealba who fueled Colorado's sweep of Philadelphia in the NL Divisional Series as Holliday, Helton, Hawpe and Atkins combined to go just 10-for-49.
Atkins said he expects a big breakout against the Diamondbacks.
``We didn't have the best divisional series but I felt like we had some good at-bats,'' he said. ``We just need better production from our middle guys and we'll be right where we want to be.''
 

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