Crowing about the next challenge

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley doesn’t know a lot about Garrett Atkins, but he has a pretty firm grasp on how he’ll form a relationship with the infielder and bring out the best in him.

Crowley inherits the responsibility of putting Atkins back on the right track after the seven-year veteran skidded into a ditch in Colorado.

Atkins batted .226 with nine homers and 48 RBIs. He lost his starting job at third base.

Now he needs to find his way.

“This actually is one of my favorite-type situations,” Crowley said yesterday. “So much of this business, the end of the business that I’m in, deals with disappointment. Seven out of 10 at-bats are outs and you have a great hitter, so there’s a negative side to hitting. And the fact that he had success in the past really makes me feel good.”

Atkins batted .329 with 29 homers and 120 RBIs in 2006. His numbers declined in each of the next three seasons, though he still topped 20 home runs and 98 RBIs until 2009.

“I’ll watch films and see how far he’s come away from what he was doing,” said Crowley, who’s already arranged for the club’s video coordinator, Michael Silverman, to create a package of tapes for him to view at the ballpark after Christmas.

“It’s a challenge and something I look forward to. I’ve done it in the past.”

Catcher Charles Johnson batted .218 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs while splitting the 1998 season between Florida and Los Angeles. Under Crowley’s tutelage in ‘99, Johnson’s average rose to .251. He was hitting .294 with 21 homers and 55 RBIs in 2000 before the Orioles traded him to the Chicago White Sox, and he finished the year batting .304 with 31 homers and 91 RBIs.

“I have a little system that I like to use,” Crowley said. “Charles Johnson is a perfect example. When we picked him up, he was a good player. And then he kicked around from team to team and hit (.217) playing every day for the Dodgers. We got him in a steal, and he and I got to know each other.

“We had certain drills we did in the tunnel and he was improving, getting much better. And we continued it the next year.”

As the general manager in Minnesota, Andy MacPhail signed Chili Davis after the veteran batted .265 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs with the California Angels. Working with Crowley, Davis hit .277 and led the Twins with 34 doubles, 29 homers, 93 RBIs, 95 walks, a .385 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage. He also homered twice in the World Series.

“I know what I’m looking for and how I want to do it,” Crowley said.

“The thing is to get to know (Atkins) a little bit in spring training, get him to trust me. I’m going to be on his side the whole time, whether he’s hitting .220 or tearing up the league. We need each other more when he’s struggling than when he’s rolling. I’ll give him a chance to greet and visit with teammates, and they’ll tell him about me, and then we’ll go from there.

“There will be a lot of physical things that I’ll do, and a lot of film watching that I’ll do. I read a little bit about the press conference and it seemed like, he didn’t come right out and say it, but there might have been a little problem with the coaches. And the manager (Clint Hurdle before he was fired) was a pretty good hitter, and maybe he got involved and there was a little bit of tinkering over there. Well, it’s not going to be like that over here.

“What I’ll try to do is get him back to what he did when he was successful. It sounds like it’s quite easy, but honestly, it’s not. The whole season is a grind, but it’s easier if you can make it more fun. And getting hits is more fun.

“Good hitters do drift away a little bit. If you know what you’re looking for, you can put them back on track.”

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