Two years ago, Ryan Atkinson had embarked on an everyday job like so many other college athletes who never reach the professional level. But his dream hadn't disappeared. Now he's doing everything in his power to live it.
On the eve of his 24th birthday, Atkinson allowed one hit and two walks while striking out five over six innings in his second Class A Advanced start as visiting Visalia blanked Inland Empire, 4-0.
"It was good to regain my confidence after the last start," said Atkinson, who allowed two runs on six hits with four walks and four whiffs in his Visalia debut on May 3 against Stockton. "I was traveling, change of weather, change of scenery, change of league. It was a little bit different (tonight), but it was good."
Promoted after four starts with Class A Kane County to begin the year, the right-hander discovered a form with which he could be pleased again Tuesday. Atkinson only ran into trouble in the second inning, when Inland Empire's Michael Barash doubled to right field with one out and Connor Justus followed with a walk. Then Atkinson locked in.
"I wasn't really thinking about it too much when I walked the guy," he said. "I just bounced right back on the mound and went after guys. I kind of brushed it to the side. I didn't have too much stress about that. I just moved on to the next batter, to the next pitch."
Atkinson faced the minimum the rest of the way. He issued a one-out walk to Jose Rojas in the fifth, but picked the third baseman off at first. Visalia's Grant Heyman belted a two-out, two-run homer to right in the top of that inning to give his team the lead for good.
In his first full pro season and just his second outing at the level, Atkinson approached his quick climb and a lack of familiarity with the 66ers lineup from a positive frame of mind.
"It's kind of better for me in a sense, mentally, because I don't have to think too much," he said. "I just go out there and pitch and go after guys. I know a lot of guys like to get a gameplan together on how they want to approach guys, but sometimes it works best for me just to go out there and pitch, not even worry about that stuff and adjust as the game goes along where I need to.
"It was good to get my confidence back and keep producing well, keep doing my best every time I get the opportunity."
Atkinson knows how to value the opportunities. After graduating from college in 2015, he looked to be done with baseball and took a job as a patient services manager at the University of Cincinnati Hospital. The former Bearcats hurler was out of the game for the longest stretch of his life.
"I didn't play for a year and a month," he said. "I was starting my working career and reached out to an [independent] league, talked to the front office, sent them an email and they invited me to a tryout the next day. It was the first time I'd picked up a ball since my last college game. I went to that tryout, and the Diamondbacks initially saw me there. I was with the indy ball team for a week and then signed with the Diamondbacks on July 1."MiLB include
After nine outings, including seven starts last year split between the Rookie-level Arizona League D-backs and the Missoula Osprey, Atkinson moved to full-season ball in 2017.
"It's been a quick turnaround from last year and a lot of jumps to be made this year," Atkinson said. "They don't have money invested in me, so I'm just kind of going out there and showing them what I have. Nothing is expected from me, but I'm just going to keep running with the opportunity. It's a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true."
Through six combined starts with Kane County and Visalia, he sports a 4-1 record and a 3.48 ERA. He's struck out 29 strikeouts while walking 13 in 26 innings. Tuesday's victory matched his longest outing of the year as the Cincinnati native gifted himself on his first birthday away from home.
"It's going to push me to strive for another great performance, continue to get better, build the confidence of going after guys," Atkinson said. "I'm not really trying to work around hitters or anything, no matter who they are or what they've been doing. My mentality is going after guys. If they hit me, they hit me. If not, just keep going."