"Atkins Diet" Can Work for Hawks

Boise's Mitch Atkins has had a rough go of things in his first two months with the Class-A short-season club. His fortunes may have begun to take a turn for the better on Sunday.

Atkins, the Cubs' seventh round pick from the 2004 draft out of Northeast Guilford High School (Class 3-A) in McLeansville, N.C., entered Sunday's match-up against Vancouver with a 1-6 record and 6.30 ERA. His previous two starts had been the roughest, as he allowed six earned runs in both games in 7.1 innings combined.

While his numbers may not reflect it just yet, Atkins has at times been dominant this season, as evidenced Sunday. He has allowed two earned runs or less in five of his 12 starts, often featuring pinpoint control with one walk or less in five outings.

"I've thrown the ball well so far I think," Atkins said. "I stayed in extended [spring training] and learned a lot there. Most of my starts have been quality outings. I've had a lot of outings where I didn't get much run support, but I think I'm coming along pretty good. I feel confident in myself right now and I just need to get a couple of more wins."

He got one in a big way on Sunday. The 19-year-old right-hander lasted seven innings and allowed just one run and six hits to go with six strikeouts and one walk. The Hawks defeated the Canadians 3-1 and are three games back of first place Spokane in the struggling Northwest League East.

"There were a couple of times this year where the opponents scored only a run or so and we didn't score any," Atkins said, "so I've had a couple of starts where luck just didn't go my way. I thought my stats would be a little better, but it seems like I'm throwing the ball well. My confidence is higher than ever."

Prior to Sunday, Atkins had lost four straight starts, serving up a total of 19 runs in 17 innings. Back on August 10 against Spokane at Boise's Memorial Stadium, he served up three home runs in only four innings--easily his most ever for any start.

This is his second stint of short-season ball after spending his rookie season a year ago in the Arizona Summer League with the Mesa Cubs. There he made eight starts and two relief appearances, going 2-2 with a 7.89 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and 14 walks. He also threw eight wild pitches and has four this season.

The adjustment to the professional level hasn't been particularly easy on him since he chose the Cubs over a scholarship to Elon University.

"In high school, you win just about every game," Atkins said, "and this is a learning process. I feel I'm a whole lot better now than I was at the beginning of the year. In high school, there were one or two hitters in my whole region who gave me a challenge. Here most everyone can swing the bat well and if you make a mistake, they'll hurt you.

"Another thing is that I always threw pretty hard and just went out and blew it by everyone. I can't do that any more."

What you'll see most every night Atkins is on the hill is a sharp fastball, usually in the low 90s, a curveball and a changeup. It's a simple repertoire, but one that Atkins notes is complemented by a strong pair of off-speed pitches.

"My changeup has come a long way since the beginning of the year," he said. "When that changeup is working, I'm able to change speeds pretty well, which for me brings out my success. I still like to challenge hitters with my fastball, but at this level, when you don't change speeds, they're going to beat you."

Atkins hopes his most recent outing will jumpstart a strong finish to what has been a relatively disappointing year numbers-wise, but a good season as far as all else is concerned.

He has been in the Hawks' rotation from day one this year, leading the way with a team-high 12 starts. His teammates and fellow starters even have a nickname for him.

"They say I look like Napoleon Dynamite," Atkins said. "My hair's not that bad, but all the guys joke around about it. I don't think I look like him, though."

Do you?


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