Nothing felt especially different for Mitch Atkins on Sunday. It all simply felt better, and it showed.
Atkins pitched six hitless innings, striking out seven and issuing just one walk, as Double-A Mississippi thumped Chattanooga, 14-1, at Trustmark Park.
"When I'm in a groove like that, and [catcher Matt Kennelly's] putting down the right fingers, it's easy for me to pitch and throw the ball and not have to worry about certain things," Atkins said. "Once you get in a groove, it's not too much thinking; it's just get the ball and throw."
The 28-year-old right-hander found himself in a jam in the first inning after hitting O'Koyea Dickson with a pitch and walking Daniel Mayora. That may have been the catalyst he needed. Atkins (1-0) recorded the final out in the first, then faced the minimum the rest of the day.
The lone man to reach base against the 2004 seventh-round pick after the opening inning was Scott Schebler, who got to first on a wild pitch for strike three. Even there, Atkins had an answer by picking off Schebler.
Back in Double-A after going 1-3 with a 4.72 ERA in 11 appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett, Atkins has acquitted himself well through his first two Southern League outings. After yielding two runs over five innings in his first start five days ago, he lowered his ERA to 1.64 and his opponents' batting average to .083.
"I started off a little rough this year," Atkins said, "and then I guess you just try to find out what works, try to look back on your good starts and figure out what's working for you. Maybe I figured something out tonight, so I'm going to try to keep it going, no matter where I am this year."
Mississippi gave Atkins breathing room in the third and fourth. Gustavo Nunez singled home Barrett Kleinknecht with the game's first run and the Braves broke out in a seven-run fourth, highlighted by Cedric Hunter's bases-loaded triple.
"Our team jumped out to a pretty big lead and I just settled in, and they never got back in the game," Atkins said.
"You should never change your mind-set on how to attack hitters [with a lead], just try to go one pitch at a time and not let the game dictate how you're feeling or fast you're throwing. You try to keep it in perspective depending on what's going on around you."
The Lookouts finally broke up the no-no against reliever Jorge Reyes on a one-out single by Mayora, who plated their lone run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.
Chattanooga's Matt Shelton (2-1) gave up six runs -- three earned -- on three hits and a walk while striking out three in 3 2/3 innings.