Atkins Repeating his Game

You hear it all the time; that baseball is a game of repetition. For Cubs pitching prospect Mitch Atkins, that's been a good thing.

Through his first five starts this season with Class-A Daytona, Atkins had surrendered just six earned runs for a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings.

About the only thing missing from the right-hander and 2004 seventh-round draft pick's outings to this point is his presence in the later innings.

To date this season, Atkins has logged six full innings only once – in his Florida State League debut back on April 5 against Brevard County.

But the Cubs minor league wins leader a season ago isn't worried.

For one thing, pitch counts among young Cubs prospects such as the 21-year-old Atkins ain't exactly as high as gas prices this early in the season.

For another, Atkins attributes his relatively short starts to high pitch counts, which he says aren't brought on by an excess of walks – he has just eight in 30 1/3 innings – but ironically from pitching to contact.

"There have been a few games where I've gone pretty deep into the count, where a lot of balls got fouled off," says Atkins, 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA for Daytona. "I'll get 3-2 or 2-2 on a lot of guys and that doesn't help any."

Atkins burst onto the prospect stage last summer in Peoria, where he led the Cubs' farm system with 13 wins and dropped only four decisions.

He posted the Class-A Midwest League's fourth best ERA (2.41) for a starting pitcher and since then, it's been all about repetition.

Daytona pitching coach Rich Bombard was Atkins' mentor last season and was paired with the Greensboro, N.C., native for a second stint this year.

What Bombard saw from Atkins in his first season above short-season A ball in 2006 is similar to what he is seeing in '07, he said.

"He's repeating. He's coming off a very good year and he's kept that (momentum) going into this year," says Bombard, now in his second season as a pitching coach in the Cubs' chain. "He's just another young pitcher learning how to pitch and he's commanding the strike zone."

Having averaged roughly three walks per nine innings in 25 starts with Peoria last season, Atkins has done nothing in 2007 that might possibly deter his overly solid command (and results).

When asked about his game plan, Atkins keeps it simple: pitch to contact.

"That's always been my game plan. I have a good defense behind me and you can't go out there and strike out everybody anyway," said Atkins, who incidentally is second on his team with 28 strikeouts.

"You do that and you're not going to last but three innings," he reasoned.

Atkins uses three pitches to his benefit: a fastball anywhere from 88 to 92 mph, a curveball and a changeup. He appears overly satisfied with the development of his breaking ball, which he boasts is his out-pitch.

Now the bulk of Atkins' work has gone toward establishing his changeup.

"I know my curveball is good enough to get people out, but I've been trying to focus on my changeup because it can be an out-pitch, too. I just have to throw it more and have more confidence when I throw it," Atkins said.

If Atkins is able to do that, Bombard knows the potential is there.

"He controls three quality pitches at times. They all have a chance to be major league pitches," Bombard said.

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