09/28/2004 9:26 PM ET
Notes: Atkins gets taste of outfield
Infielder makes his first start at an unfamiliar position
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Instead of looking for a taker for prospect Garrett Atkins, the Colorado Rockies appear to be trying to find a place for him.
|Garrett Atkins made his first Major League start in the outfield on Tuesday night. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Atkins, a third baseman-first baseman with no place to play because of the presence of Vinny Castilla and Todd Helton, started in left field Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Atkins responded early, driving an RBI single off Kazuhisa Ishii in the first inning.
Despite seeing no more than sporadic playing time since being called from Triple-A Colorado Springs -- where he led the Pacific Coast League with a .366 batting average -- Atkins batted .389 with a home run and two doubles in 18 at-bats.
"I'm just looking for opportunities to in the future to get Garrett more involved in our program," Hurdle said. "I really think if he could pull this off, this will add value and increase his opportunity to make our ballclub next spring."
Of course, there's the little matter that Atkins has almost no experience in the outfield.
"For the last week or so, I've taken some fly balls and worked with Davey [Collins, Colorado's outfield coach] to get ready," Akins said. "As far as outfield in a game, I played one in college [at UCLA]. I played pretty much outfield in high school."
Realizing that California prep competition is some of the best in the nation, but it's not the Major Leagues, Hurdle basically told Atkins not to fear something would go wrong defensively.
"I take full responsibility for him," Hurdle said. "I told him, 'Go out there and do the best you can, and we'll see what happens.'"
Although he insisted that he has been sizing up where Atkins fits in the Rockies' future all along, Tuesday marked Hurdle's most positive indication that Atkins was in the Rockies' plans rather than trade bait. Hurdle said the club has discussed internally the possibility of Atkins either spending time in Arizona at instructional ball after the season or having him report a week early to Spring Training to work with Collins.
It all stems from Atkins' bat.
Exposed by the inside pitch last year, when he batted .159 in 25 big league games, Atkins opened his stance slightly. More important than that, according to Rockies hitting coach Duane Espy, he eliminated much of the hand and body movement that restricted his flexibility in the batter's box.
Atkins boils it down to relaxation. Even being thrown onto the field at a new position didn't shake his peace.
"It's a chance to be out there and a chance to bat," Atkins said. "If it's in left field, it's in left field. I'm sure there will be some jitters but once I get that first fly ball it'll be out of the way after that."
That first fly wasn't an easy one. Atkins had to make a long run, then had to slide to catch Steve Finley's third-inning pop in short left.
Unsettled at home: Colorado rookie utility man Luis Gonzalez, who missed Monday's game and had limited availability on Tuesday because of a sore right thumb, has long been a favorite of baseball fans in his native Venezuela. That image was only enhanced by his performance this season (.297, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs).
As has been his custom throughout his career, spent in the minors until this year, Gonzalez will play in Venezuela's winter league. But there is worry accompanied with joy and pride in his homeland.
Unsettled political and social conditions in Venezuela affect many of that country's players in the Major Leagues. Detroit reliever Ugueth Urbina has been dealing with the kidnapping of his mother, and other players have expressed fear for their loved ones. Gonzalez is no exception.
"It's scary," he said. "You've got to make sure that your family has security. All of us go back and play in the winter because we're from there and the people support us. But it is a difficult situation because you worry about your family."
Road swinger: The 20 road home runs that Castilla carried into Tuesday night were tied for third-most in a season in the history of the Rockies, a franchise vexed by a tradition of off-the-charts production at home and below-radar work on the road.
Here is the list of most road homers in club history:
Larry Walker, 1997 -- 27
Todd Helton, 2001 -- 22
Vinny Castilla, 2004 -- 20
Castilla, 1998 -- 20
Andres Galarraga, 1997 -- 20
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.