Strep gone, Atkins' swing plenty strong

Strep gone, Atkins' swing strong

WASHINGTON -- Rockies first baseman Garrett Atkins missed two games and part of another because of strep throat, but he really felt sick about what the time off would do to his swing.

But going into Sunday's finale of a three-game set against the Nationals, his stroke is as healthy as he is.

Atkins went 1-for-3 in a reserve role on Thursday afternoon against the D-backs. After a rusty 0-for-4 Friday against the Nationals, ending a nine-game hitting streak, Atkins went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in Saturday's 13-6 victory.

"I was going good before I got sick, so it was a little frustrating to have that happen," said Atkins, who entered Sunday hitting .303 with 16 home runs and a team-leading 77 RBIs. "But I'm looking forward to finishing as strong as I can."

Atkins was hitting .344 on May 19, but a .269 mark in June made the following months a battle to stay above .300. But manager Clint Hurdle believes Atkins, who overcame a long, early slump last year to finish at .301, is capable of a torrid finish. He hit .329 in 2006.

"I just feel it," Hurdle said. "He's got some history on his side. But it's also just the way he goes about his business.

"He's not a guy that just walks out there, grabs a bat and expects to hit. He's a student of hitting -- pays attention, feels accountable for his spot in the lineup. You're always going to pull for those kinds of guys. We've got a number of them."

Atkins has shown defensive value as well. He made himself into an adequate fielder at third base, and then Todd Helton's back injury gave him a chance to move to first base, his position in college.

He isn't Helton, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, but he is making all the necessary plays and has shown agility on some tough grounders.

It comes at a good time for Atkins, who is eligible for salary-arbitration again this offseason. During the winter, Atkins declined to sign a long-term contract for what he thought was below-market value and took a one-year, $4.38 million deal.

Atkins said at the time he had no hard feelings about not receiving a better offer for a multiyear deal. He said that during the season, he doesn't have time to think about that.

"Obviously, I feel I'm important to this team," Atkins said. "I haven't had quite the season I expected, but there are still six more weeks."

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