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04/15/08 10:28 PM EST

Rockies' Atkins finding hitting stroke

Plodding third baseman would rather hit 'em over fence

SAN DIEGO -- Tuesday night's meeting with the Padres brings memories of a wild play from the Rockies' 2007 season that had nothing to do with whether Matt Holliday's hand actually ever reached the plate. Garrett Atkins made it home -- on an inside-the-park home run -- last Sept. 23 during a 7-3 Rockies victory at PETCO. But how did he ever make it?

The chance of Atkins, a plodding third baseman, dashing out an inside-the-park homer is about equal to ... well, the chance of the Rockies making the playoffs by winning 14 of their final 15 regular-season games, including the tie-breaker won on Holliday's disputed run in the 13th inning on Oct. 1. But center fielder Mike Cameron dived unsuccessfully for Atkins' line drive and tripped left fielder Milton Bradley, who stepped on Cameron's hand. Still, Atkins barely made it safely.

"It took two guys getting hurt for it to happen," Atkins said. "That's generally the only way it happens for a guy with my kind of speed."

The Rockies' last game, a 13-5 beating of the Diamondbacks on Sunday, was a better display of how Atkins usually does his damage. More important, the 3-for-6 performance included a home run and might have been a signal that Atkins is ready to be a force in the Rockies' lineup.

Atkins has started every game this season. He'd managed some good at-bats, but until Sunday he hadn't had a string of them. Sunday's complete offensive performance was reminiscent of the last five months of last season, when he overcame a .223 average through 52 games and hit .338 in the final 105 games. Atkins kept an easy swing and hit to both sides of the field.

"That's when he's going good," Rockies hitting coach Alan Cockrell said. "It just didn't look like there was a lot of effort to anything he did. And he just came to the cage today and he had the same type of approach."

Atkins, 28, is confident that his Spring Training approach is paying off. He batted just .250 with three doubles, a triple and a home run in Cactus League play, but until the final week he was concentrating on keeping a compact, opposite-way swing to the exclusion of all else. He took more swings this spring, but only in the final week did he begin putting his full regular-season swing to use in games.

Freed from focusing on the mechanics of his swing, Atkins is back to evaluating his at-bats by how well he is seeing the ball and transferring that information to his swing. If he feels that way after multiple at-bats, he can feel good about the performance.

His big worry was whether a day of rest and relaxation would cost him his rhythm.

"I'm not the only one who was a little upset we had an off-day yesterday," Atkins said. "Scoring 13 runs as a team and hitting some homers, you're excited to get to the ballpark the next day. You hope you have that same swing."

As Atkins proved last year with his slow-motion homer, anything is possible when he has his stroke.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.