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Atkins looking to start over in Baltimore

Atkins looking to start over in Baltimore

Garrett Atkins badly needed a fresh start.

It wasn't too long ago when he was one of the best-hitting third basemen in the National League. But the most recent memory of Atkins comes off a rough 2009 season, one that saw him battle injury in Spring Training, get off to a slow start in the regular season, temporarily lose his starting job and never really find his swing again.

But perhaps Baltimore can serve as his healing tool.

The Orioles were looking -- and still are, really -- for corner-infield help this offseason, preferably someone who bats right-handed and can serve as a more-than-capable stopgap until top-shelf prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell are Major League ready. And after being non-tendered by the Rockies on Saturday, Atkins was looking for a second chance to play every day.

Perhaps the two can be a perfect match.

"That was definitely the No. 1 factor in his decision-making process -- the opportunity to play," Atkins' agent, Jeff Blank, told MLB.com. "Also, [he was] looking at other variables -- good lineup, good organization, nice ballpark -- but opportunity to play was very important to him because some of the other teams saw him more as a guy that could be first base, third base, DH-type, kind of moving around, whereas in Baltimore, he'll probably have a set position and be a guy that's an everyday starter, and that was very important to him."

While playing in the thin Colorado air from 2006-08, Atkins hit .305 while averaging 25 home runs and 110 RBIs per season. But in '09, he finished sporting a lowly .226 batting average and had just nine homers and 48 RBIs in 126 games.

Along with signing potential closer Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract, the Orioles recently reached an agreement with the 30-year-old corner infielder on a one-year, $4 million contract for next season, one that includes an $8.5 million club option for 2011 -- with a $500,000 buyout -- and up to $500,000 in incentives for the upcoming season.

Atkins is currently in his hometown of Irvine, Calif., and isn't expected to take his physical in Baltimore until probably early next week, meaning the deal won't be finalized until then.

A fifth-round Draft pick by the Rockies in 2000, Atkins played mostly first base at UCLA, but with Todd Helton entrenched at the position, he switched almost primarily to third base in his second season in Colorado's system.

Atkins has never been regarded as a strong defender, but he has registered 642 games at third base and 105 at first throughout his seven-year Major League career, giving the O's some flexibility as they likely search for another corner infielder.

"I think it depends on what Baltimore does the rest of the season, but he's open to playing either [third or first base]," Blank said.

Atkins missed time in Spring Training because of groin and hip flexor problems, then batted just .194 with three home runs in the first two months of the season. Shortly after Jim Tracy took over as manager in late May, Atkins was replaced by the younger Ian Stewart at third base. That eventually became somewhat of a platoon situation, and Atkins was never really able to regain his timing.

"When you're platooning and sitting for three games, and then facing one of the best pitchers in the game the next day, it's hard to get your timing down," Blank said. "He had some great games, but not playing every day obviously affected timing."

Still, Atkins started all four games in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, and though he mostly continued to struggle, he did have a breakout 2-for-4, two-RBI night in Game 3.

The Orioles are hoping that was a sign of more to come.

"He looked like his old self [in Game 3], and it was simply because he was playing every day in the last week of the year and in the postseason," Blank said. "He's looking to build off that, and with a change of scenery and a new organization, looking for a huge 2010 season."

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

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