Atkins struggling to find consistency at plate

Atkins struggling to find consistency at plate

BALTIMORE-- Orioles first baseman Garrett Atkins knows he isn't putting up the numbers anyone anticipated.

His .236 batting average and no homers through the first 39 games of the season are exasperating, not just for Atkins, but for the entire organization. While the Orioles' offense as a unit has underperformed, Atkins' struggles at the plate -- which include close to as many RBIs (five) as double plays (four) -- has put the free-agent acquisition on the proverbial hot seat.

"I understand that we're losing ballgames here, and I haven't produced as well as I would like to," Atkins said prior to Monday's game. "But as far as being on the hot seat, I can't worry about that.

"I'm not worried about who else can play first base, who else will play first base. I'm just going out there trying to help the team win."

Following Monday's 0-for-3 performance, Atkins is 3-for-17 with two doubles through the first seven games of the Orioles' eight-game homestand, and he followed up a 6-for-10 stretch in New York with just one hit in 12 at-bats in Minnesota. It's no surprise when asked to identify the root of his problems, Atkins need only one word: consistency.

"I have a few good games here, a few bad games here," Atkins said. "I'm not doing it day in, day out and that's what's frustrating on my part, and I'm sure it's frustrating on the [organization's] part as well."

Baltimore recalled Rhyne Hughes in late April to try to spark some healthy competition for the first-base job, but after a hot start, the rookie fizzled out and was sent back to Triple-A following Saturday's game. When asked about the Orioles' first base situation during Sunday's pregame, manager Dave Trembley said Atkins would get the nod for the next few days. When re-asked following the team's 5-1 loss -- in which Atkins went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, two groundouts and a double-play ball -- Trembley said he would sleep on it.

On Monday afternoon Trembley joked he hadn't gotten any sleep yet, but acknowledged that Atkins will continue to play for the foreseeable future.

"He's got to keep plugging away," Trembley said. "He's what we have right now, so I think you keep running him out there until we go in another direction, and right now, there is no other direction for me."

With utility man Ty Wigginton entrenched at second base in lieu of the injured Brian Roberts, the only feasible scenario would be to put Luke Scott at first and have Lou Montanez serve as designated hitter. Given that Montanez is batting just .114 (4-for-35), it's hardly an ideal solution.

When asked if he was concerned about Atkins, Trembley responded that was "putting it lightly".

"I'm not panicking," Trembley said. "But concerned, yeah. Expect more? Yes. I expect more. I'm sure [Atkins] does as well. I'm sure there are a lot of guys who expect more, and maybe that's part of the [offensive] dilemma."

The Orioles entered Monday's game with Atkins, Adam Jones (.245) and Cesar Izturis (.206) all batting below the .250 mark and have scored just 130 runs this year, the second-lowest number in the American League. Nolan Reimold struggled enough to be optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk on May 12, but the organization is hopeful Reimold can regain his power stroke and possibly help them at first base.

A natural outfielder, Reimold started at first base for the Tides on Sunday and broke through for his first hit in three Triple-A games, which was a two-run homer. While Reimold started in left field in the Tides' game on Monday, Trembley said the expectation is he will get some fairly regular time at first.

"The club wants to see what [Reimold] can do at first base," Trembley said. "That's why he was taking ground balls at the end of Spring Training, and why he was doing it here. It's a good opportunity for him when he went to Triple-A to see if he could get acclimated over there.

"There's a need right now."

Coming off last September's Achilles tendon surgery on his left heel, Reimold limped through most of Spring Training, but got hot toward the end of camp, raising his average to .283 in 17 games. But he never looked quite comfortable at the plate this season, and at the time of his demotion Reimold was hitting .205 with 20 strikeouts. His defense was on equally shaky ground.

"I don't know if he's ever going to be able to move like he did before the Achilles problem in the outfield," Trembley said.

"Watching him play in the outfield, I don't know personally if he's going to be able to handle that night after night after night out there. It still looks like he's a little bit behind physically, not because he hasn't worked at it, but because he had major surgery. If something else works and you can get him in your lineup, I'm going to try. But instead of trying it at the big league level, the Minor Leagues is called player development. So let him try it in the Minor Leagues, and see what he does there."

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