Atkins Trying to Turn the Corner

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Mitch Atkins is trying to rebound from a few rough outings at the start of the season at Class AAA Iowa. After taking home honors last season for Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, the right-hander ended the month of April with a 6.99 ERA through five starts.

In his first two starts this season, the 23-year-old Atkins allowed 14 earned runs in a span of just nine innings. Opponents were batting .405 against him, and the Cubs were as baffled by those numbers as anyone who has followed Atkins' career since he was drafted out of high school in the seventh round in 2004.

"He's been up in the zone and just not executing his pitches well enough," Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins said of Atkins. "He had a good Spring Training and I'm a little surprised that he's not doing well.

"He's just gotten off to a couple of bad games. We're not too worried about him right now. We feel like he's going to be OK."

Atkins just might be.

Since those first two outings, Atkins has rebounded slowly and seems to be putting things back together. He pitched into the eighth inning in a start against Round Rock – the same team that jumped him for seven runs in five innings in the Cubs' season opener back on April 9 – and scattered just two runs and four hits.

Most recently in a start against Memphis on April 30, Atkins went six innings and gave up two earned runs on five hits. He has lowered his ERA in each of his last three starts.

Atkins says he feels like he's beginning to turn the corner.

"I've worked on a couple of things and my last (three) starts have been good," said Atkins. "I've just been trying to stay on top of the ball, and not getting on one side of the ball is probably one of the biggest things."

A season ago, Atkins won 17 games and finished with an ERA of 4.00 while logging a career-high 164 1/3 innings between Class AA Tennessee and Iowa. At one point, he won 12 consecutive starts.

After the season, Chicago added him to their 40-man roster and he went to big league camp this spring for the first time in his career after amassing 44 wins and a 3.84 ERA in his first five seasons as a Cubs prospect.

Part of the reason for Atkins' success a season ago was the introduction of a cut-fastball to his repertoire. He said the cutter continues to be a key addition to his arsenal this season and that he's been able to mix it in with his regular four-seam fastball, slider and changeup.

And despite the rough start to 2009, Atkins actually led the Cubs' farm system in strikeouts with 27 through 28 1/3 innings. He had nine walks in that span, but walks haven't been the problem, he said.

"I've just (leaving) the ball up and then a few pitches here and there got me in trouble," he said. "Trying to get ahead and go a little later in the game is probably the two biggest things. Those first two games when I started off, I got in trouble, but the last (three) I've gotten better."

Atkins was asked if there was any pressure or lofty expectations that come with being Pitcher of the Year.

"No, I just try to do the things I've always done and just take it game by game," he said. "That's pretty much all I can do."

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