Notebook: Ex-Oriole Atkins looking to catch on with Pirates

March 10, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

BRADENTON, Fla. — In 2010, for the first time since he can remember, Garrett Atkins spent the months of July and August without baseball.

He's hoping that scenario doesn't happen again soon.

Atkins, who was the Orioles' Opening Day starting first baseman but was released at the end of June after a woeful three months, is attempting to make the Pittsburgh Pirates this spring. The 31-year-old batted fifth and played third base Thursday night against the Orioles.

"I am excited about the opportunity over here to try and get things back on track, fight for a job and see how it goes, said Atkins, who batted .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 140 at-bats last year.

The Orioles officially released him July 6, eating the remainder of his $4.5 million, one-year contract. By the time he was waived, Atkins was buried at the end of bench.

"It wasn't completely ideal, but I played myself into that position," Atkins said about his time in Baltimore. "So there are no complaints at all. I didn't perform and I'm sure no one was really happy with the outcome."

Instead of signing a minor league deal last summer, he got away from baseball altogether. He barely watched the sport on TV, but occasionally checked to see how some of his friends on the Orioles and Colorado Rockies were faring.

"It was actually fun once you kind of got over the fact you are at home or what-not. You kind of think back and realize you haven't spent any time away from baseball, ever, in the summer," Atkins said. "It was enjoyable, for what it was, and now I am excited to get back to work here."

The Pirates are set at the starting corner infield spots with rookie Pedro Alvarez at third base and new acquisition Lyle Overbay at first. But both are left-handed, which may create an opening for the right-handed Atkins.

He is in a four-man battle for the backup spot, but he does have one advantage: New Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was Atkins' manager during his best years with the Rockies.

"I had a good relationship with him back in Colorado," Atkins said of Hurdle. "He has seen my swing as much as anybody besides my dad, so he is able to pick some things up and I can iron them out in the [batting] cage."

Atkins, who had four hits including one homer in 16 at-bats heading into Thursday, said he hasn't thought about what he'll do if he doesn't make the Pirates — whether he'll play in the minors or abandon the comeback attempt.

"We'll see what happens when the time comes," Atkins said. "In three weeks, all that will work itself out and we'll see how I am doing and how the rest of these games go and kind of assess from there."

Injury roundup, including Brian Roberts

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said second baseman Brian Roberts (back spasms) worked out Thursday afternoon at the Ed Smith complex and could play in Friday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Sarasota.

"We'll see how everything is [Friday]," Showalter said about Roberts, who hasn't played since Monday night against the New York Yankees. Roberts said the back spasms are not related to the herniated disk that cost the second baseman much of the 2010 season.

In other injury news, right-hander Koji Uehara (elbow) threw off flat ground Thursday. The club will wait to see how he feels today to determine his next plan of action.

First baseman Derrek Lee (right wrist) participated in defensive drills Thursday but has not taken live batting practice.

Infielder Cesar Izturis (left ankle) is expected to play today. Izturis said he felt better on Thursday, but the team wanted to give him another day of rest.

Fox starts in left

Jake Fox, who is battling for a bench spot and the backup catcher role, was the Orioles' starting left fielder Thursday for the first time this spring. He made just one start in left for the Orioles last season, but he's played more games in left (36) in his big-league career than anywhere else on the field.

Heading into Thursday, Fox was hitting .385 and leading the Orioles this spring in at-bats (26), hits (10), total bases (22) and homers (3).

"To be able to get where I want to go," Fox said, "I need to be ready for my opportunities and take them where I can get them."

Around the horn

Showalter said cuts are expected within the next day or two. … Jeremy Guthrie will start today's game against Philadelphia's Cliff Lee. Also pitching for the Orioles will be Jason Berken and Rick VandenHurk. … On Saturday, Zach Britton will start against the Houston Astros, and Chris Tillman will also pitch in the game. … The Orioles will have an intrasquad game on Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium in which Justin Duchscherer will pitch for one side and a group of Orioles left-handers will pitch for the other side. … On March 21, the Orioles' scheduled off day, Guthrie will pitch in a minor league game against Minnesota Twins farmhands.

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