Sitting Down with Thomas Atlee

Thomas Atlee's season began on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle that set him back nearly two months into the season.

The injury sent Atlee, now 26, back to Class-A Daytona, where he spent all of 2004. A 2.61 ERA and eight saves in 20 appearances in the Florida State League to open Atlee's season convinced the Cubs to promote him to Double-A West Tenn, where he appeared destined entering the year.

Atlee is currently one of a plethora of right-handers used from a Jaxx bullpen that contributed as largely to the Southern League's best record and pitching staff as did the starting rotation. Jaxx pitching finished the year with the league's best staff ERA at 3.35--37 points better than second-place Carolina's 3.72 mark.

The Jaxx are currently battling the Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League Championship Series. The best-of-five series is tied 1-1 with game three set for Friday night at Pringles Park beginning at 6:35 p.m. CDT.

So far, Atlee has yet to see post-season action because of how deep into games Jaxx starters have gone in the team's first five playoff games. Renyel Pinto has worked 14.2 innings in two starts, while Ricky Nolasco has gone eight innings in one start; Carlos Marmol 6.2 innings; and Jae-Kuk Ryu six innings.

Indeed, "This is an awesome team," said Atlee, 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 29 appearances at West Tenn during the regular season. "You don't get to play with this amount of talent every year. I was hoping to be here from the beginning, but things happen."

Last year at Daytona, Atlee was 3-3 with a 3.58 ERA in 46 appearances. He saved 15 games, but was used primarily as a setup man once the Cubs received Andrew Shipman from the Boston Red Sox farm system in exchange for veteran left-hander Jimmy Anderson.

Going from Single-A to Double-A has already taught Atlee quite a bit in just over half a season.

"The biggest adjustment up here is that you can get away with more mistakes in A-ball," Atlee said. "Up here, you have to really minimize those mistakes and focus a lot more on first-pitch strikes, retiring the first hitter of the inning, and not falling behind in the counts. The hitters are just sitting back, waiting on that one pitch."

Atlee says another adjustment is learning how to pitch to hitters that are borderline major league-ready. The Cubs are a true testiment to that, as already this season Matt Murton, Adam Greenberg and Ryan Theriot have all been promoted to Chicago. Rich Hill has also made the trip to the big leagues, from a pitcher's standpoint.

"You really are playing against a lot of guys who are just inches away from being major league hitters," Atlee said, "so you have to be that much better. You can't have an off-day here."

Atlee is currently in his fourth season with the Cubs' organization. He was selected from Lamar University in Texas in the 19th round of the 2002 draft. Entering 2005, Atlee had a career 2.99 ERA in 68 appearances. He missed all of 2003 due to injury, but returned in 2004 to finish fourth in the Florida State League in saves. He earned "Rolaids Relief Award" honors for the month of May while going 2-0 with eight saves during that span.

Though Atlee is still plenty focused on this season and helping the Jaxx win its first Southern League title since 2000. He will have plenty to keep his time occupied once the upcoming offseason kicks in. In addition to his normal hobbies such as two-stepping and watching re-runs of The Sopranos, the Houston native has a fiancé whom he plans to marry following the 2006 season.

Marriage in the Atlee family is going to be on the agenda for some time now, as the right-hander's brother is also preparing to wed this offseason.

"Nicole is a wonderful person," Atlee said of his fiancé. "We're inseparable. She and I went to visit my parents when I had a few days off after being brought up here from Daytona. This will be the first offseason we've really spent together."

Atlee also hopes to play winter ball once the season ends.

"There are a lot of things I want to work on," he said. "Whether the opportunity presents itself or not, I'd definitely like to take part in it. There are plenty of things I plan to do on my own. Living in Houston, there's a lot of resources as far as instruction and where to work out. I plan to build on what I've done so far and make improvements."

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