He's Back: Freeland 'Changes' His Approach With Success
The questions about Kyle Freeland hung over the Rockies throughout the off-season, into spring training and during that abbreviated get-ready phase teams went through the first three weeks of July in advance of the opening of the abbreviated season.
A legitimate Cy Young candidate in 2018, Freeland never got on track in 2019 after a solid effort in the opening game of that season. He was on the injured list in late April because of a blister on his left middle finger, and again from Aug. 2-Sept. 21 with a left groin strain.
In between he spent the month of June and first two weeks of July at Triple-A Albuquerque in hopes he would find an answer to the growing list of questions that were being raised.
Through it all, manager Bud Black and pitching coach Steve Foster remained convinced that 2019 was an aberration, and Freeland would be just fine when the 2020 season got underway.
And the new look Freeland, who dumbed-down his delivery to keep his body in sync and doubled his pitch selection to include a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider, certainly took a first step in proving his point in the Rockies 5-2 victory in Sunday's series finale at Texas.
Oh, it wasn't spotless. But that was part of the beauty.
Freeland faced challenges and didn't back down.
He shook off a mammoth home run hit by Joey Gallo that put the Rangers up 1-0 leading off the bottom of the second.
"It was his first at-bat and wanted to see where his eyes and hands were when we went inside," said Freeland. "I threw a sinker that didn't sink and he was able to hit the ball really far."
But here's the key. No excuse. It was a man-up moment. And it helped create a focus for the remainder of what was a six-inning effort by Freeland.
"Right there, that gave us information that he's ready for something up and in, so we adjusted our play to stay down and keep him off balance," said Freeland. "We got information from that one swing."
And it was put to good use. Gallo did walk in the third inning, but he struck out in the sixth, Freeland's final inning of work. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Rob Refsnyder doubled, took third on an Elvis Andrus bunt and scored on a Nick Solak single, leaving two men on base with no outs.
Not for long, however. Freeland never let the Rangers see him sweat. Calmly, without losing his approach to the game, which was mixing his four pitches extensively, he induced a double-play ground ball from No. 3 hitter Danny Santana, and after a walk to Gallo, got out of the inning thanks to a Rougned Odor pop up to short.
There was a slight bend, but no break.
"You could tell he has that bulldog about him back," said Trevor Story. "You could see that in (Summer Camp). It was uncomfortable facing him. He chewed me up a couple times. I knew he had it then.
"I knew he was going to bring it (Sunday). It is exciting to see that because we know how good he was in 2018. And I think that is more of who he is."
Any questions were answered in his final three innings, when he faced the minimum three batters. After a walk to Todd Frazier, he induced a double-play ground ball from Robinson Chirinos, and retired the final seven batters he faced on four ground balls, a fly ball to right and back-to-back strikeouts of Santana and Gallo, the 3-4 hitters in Texas' lineup.
He had that velocity variance from the high 70s to 94-miles-per-hour on his expanded assortment of pitches.
"That's what I worked on in the off-season, especially during the quarantine, harnessing that deception of my pitches," he said. "I can build off this. It's a good first step for me. Confidence is growing."
And he had command -- 51 strikes and 29 balls.
That did not go unnoticed.
"It was pretty much our expectation of the pitch mix," said manager Bud Black. "We talked about the uptempo, aggressive momentum building delivery. I think we saw that. The pause is now gone. We saw life to the fastball, both sides of the plate. We saw the slower breaking ball, around 80 miles per hour. We saw the hard slider. We saw close to 20 changeups out of 80 pitches.
"The big difference to me is the use of the changeup and the speed variance off his other pitches. There were countless 1-0 changeups, 2-0 changeups. He pitched, using four pitches. It's all repetition to where a pitcher gets comfortable with the grip (of the changeup). It's really a delicate feel pitch. Hopefully Kyle is on his way to establishing that as a big part of his arsenal."
Sunday, he definitely gave himself a personal reinforcement of what the adjustments can mean to himself -- and the team.