Rockies 12, Devil Rays 2

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DENVER (AP)—Even when Garrett Atkins was struggling, manager Clint Hurdle refused to give up on him.

Nor on his team.

Atkins and Brad Hawpe hit back-to-back homers in the first and the Rockies moved a game above .500 for the first time since April 9 with a 12-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday night.

At one point this season, Atkins’ average tumbled to .220. Hurdle gave him two days off in early June to collect his thoughts and then stuck him back in the lineup.

Atkins has now reached base on either a hit or walk in his last 16 games to raise his average to .243.

“He’s putting some good swings on the baseball,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s turning the corner.”

The same could be said of the Rockies.

On May 21, the Rockies lost to Arizona to fall to nine games below .500. Since that loss, the team is 16-6. Hurdle said he never doubted the team could become relevant again in the NL West.

“The biggest step for this ball club was to not let its confidence be shaken or tied directly to results,” Hurdle said. “We were tested dramatically early and they held up well and weathered the storm. We think we can beat anyone on any given night.”

In winning three straight, the Rockies have outscored their opponents 31-5.

“It’s spilling over onto everybody,” Hurdle said. “We’ve made a lot of improvement in the last month.”

Colorado handed another pitcher their first loss of the season, knocking around James Shields on Friday night. The Rockies beat Boston’s Josh Beckett the night before.

Shields (6-1) was beaten for the first time in 14 starts. He was the first Devil Rays pitcher to begin a season 6-0 and one of only 17 major league pitchers in the last 25 years to start the year with 13 straight unbeaten starts.

Shields, a 25-year-old righty, had given up a combined four runs in two previous June starts before the Rockies scored four times in the first on four hits, including the back-to-back homers. He gave up six hits and five runs in six innings. It was his shortest outing of the season.

“I was absolutely terrible,” Shields said of his performance in the first inning.

The Rockies hit back-to-back homers for the first time this season. Atkins’ two-out, two-run homer to straightaway center was his sixth of the season. Hawpe followed with his 10th to almost the identical spot.

Todd Helton added two RBI singles and brought in another run on a sacrifice fly in the seventh as part of a four-run inning. Matt Holliday had a two-run single in the frame.

Holliday finished the night with two doubles, a single and four RBIs. Willie Taveras had three hits and scored two runs.

“We have a lot of guys swinging the bats really well right now,” Holliday said.

No one more than Atkins. He also had a grand slam Thursday night against Boston.

“It was a matter of time,” Holliday said. “He’s got a track record—he can hit.”

Atkins hit .329 with 29 homers last season. Asked if Atkins was back to his former self, Holliday just grinned.

“I’d say,” he said.

Rodrigo Lopez (3-0) scattered eight hits over six innings as the Rockies improved to 6-1 in Lopez’s seven starts this season. He has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start.

“It wasn’t my sharpest performance,” Lopez said. “But I was able to make the pitches when I needed.”

Delmon Young hit a solo shot to right-center in the sixth, his eighth of the season, and Carlos Pena had an RBI double in the fourth. Pena now has 11 extra base hits in June.

After a bumpy first, Shields settled in, retiring 14 straight before Holliday’s double in the sixth inning. Shields said it was just a matter of working hitters inside.

“Once I started working inside, I started getting people out,” Shields said.

With the team on a roll, Hurdle was asked if the Rockies were pretenders or contenders. He pondered the question for a moment.

“Time will tell,” he said. “We’re not a finished product yet.” ^Notes: INF-OF Jeff Baker, who had been unavailable the last two games because of a severe case of the flu he picked up in Boston, had a pinch-hit single in the seventh, and stayed in the game. He singled again in the eighth. … OF Rocco Baldelli (strained left hamstring) isn’t expected back for another week. … OF Elijah Dukes was not in the starting lineup again Friday night. … Tampa Bay has lost three straight and been outscored 27-3.

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