Atkins Sees Silver Lining

Mitch Atkins' first full season in Triple-A started off on a sour note and then got worse. While the right-hander and 2008 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year has turned in some quality starts, he has not matched the level of consistency that he'd become known for and is struggling through his worst season on the mound.

Atkins has made 22 starts for Class AAA Iowa and is 6-10 with a 6.86 ERA. The numbers are what they are, but Atkins has turned in some impressive outings.

His most impressive start came on June 30 at Round Rock, when he pitched eight innings and scattered one run on only three hits and struck out seven batters. For the season, he has 99 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings. He is tied for the third most strikeouts in the Cubs' system.

More recently, on August 3 at New Orleans, he scattered two runs over six innings in a no-decision. That was a stark contrast to a game Atkins pitched just a month earlier in the Big Easy, when he was tagged for seven runs and did not make it out of the first inning.

If there are any positives, it's that Atkins is as unfazed by his struggles as he was by his success last season when he won 17 games, and he sees a silver lining.

"I feel like my mechanics are (getting) worked out and I'm feeling comfortable with all of my pitches," Atkins said after his most recent start at New Orleans.

Lifting Atkins spirits even more was an unexpected call-up to Chicago late last month. The Cubs were in need of an extra arm in the bullpen after a grueling 13-inning loss to Houston, and Chicago called on Atkins, who made two scoreless appearances and may have put himself in a position for a September call-up.

"It definitely lifted my spirits a little bit and let me know that they haven't forgotten about me," Atkins said. "I felt good and I pitched good."

Atkins says his struggles this year are the result of trying to do too much too early, and simply overthrowing.

"That got me all out of whack mechanically and mentally," Atkins said. "It took me awhile to settle down a bit and now I feel like I'm kind of back to my old form."

The Cubs still see a future big leaguer in Atkins, who entered 2009 ranked as the No. 8 pitching prospect in the Cubs organization by Baseball America.

"I think there (are) quite a few guys here at Triple-A that can pitch in the big leagues," Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins said.

Atkins is one of those guys, Riggins said.

"It's (about) timing and having a place at the big league level," Riggins said. "That's not in their control, really, or in our control; it's based on what the big club needs at that point."

But Atkins can do his part to speed up the process, and one thing helping him is the addition of a cut-fastball. Atkins called it a "high percentage strike pitch" that he uses to complement his regular four-seam fastball, slider and changeup.

"It's been a great pitch for me and I can throw it in the count pretty much when I want to, and it kind of gets them off my (four-seam) fastball," Atkins said.

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