Freeland shows off his fire in bouncing back staunchly
First a series victory was on the line Sunday at Coors Field. Then there was an evolving no-hitter. Vindication was on the line too.
Five days after Kyle Freeland stood on the mound in silence as his manager chewed him out in the middle of a game, the rookie lefthander returned to pitch the Rockies’ best game this season. Freeland fired 8L innings before allowing a hit in Colorado’s 10-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Freeland flung the Rockies into the all-star break, finally on a high, their first series victory since sweeping the San Francisco Giants on June 18. He also erased the sour taste of an eight-hit loss to the Reds on Independence Day last week, when one too many pitches outside the strike zone drew manager Bud Black to the mound for a dress-down.
Black refused to relay what was said in front of a sellout crowd that day. Freeland’s dour expression said enough. Whatever the exchange, it worked. Freeland’s 126pitch outing Sunday was one of the best-pitched games in club history.
“I went on a little skid there for three starts where my fastball command wasn’t where it needs to be. I wasn’t pitching the way I should be,” Freeland said. “Today was a great bounce back. I made some adjustments, and they worked.”
Black’s first season as Colorado’s manager has turned into an extended teaching moment. His starting pitching rotation is the youngest in the majors, now with three rookies, and another ready to rejoin. They have combined for 29 wins. But their average age is 23, an exceedingly young starting point for a Rockies team that still has designs for the postseason.
That education, though, comes with tough love. And Freeland’s difficult outing last week — to be fair, his final line was nothing near horrible — drew a rebuke. But the 24-year-old turned it around.
“I thought he pitched inside extremely well, both off the plate and for strikes,” Black said of Freeland, who struck out nine Sunday and walked three and gave up only a soft single to Melky Cabrera with one out in the ninth before he was pulled.
“His slider-cutter was much better than previous starts,” Black said. “His action on pitches is diving and darting and cutting. It has action in the hitting area. He was on.”
Black said nothing to Freeland on Sunday as he reached a groove in the sixth and seventh innings, cruising to a career-high strikeout total and forcing eight groundouts. He threw 80 strikes, 64 percent of his pitches. And his groundball rate ranked sixth-best in baseball coming in.
But Black’s confidence spoke plenty. Freeland reached 99 pitches after the seventh inning. Only once this season had he thrown more than 100. Then 110. Black extended Freeland’s pitch limit, but he would not reveal the number.
Before the eighth inning, veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan, who caught two Homer Bailey no-hitters for the Reds before coming to Colorado, stopped at the top of the Rockies’ dugout to confab with Black.
“It was the pitch count,” Hanigan said. “I knew. And he knew. And he knew I knew. You have to love Bud giving him a chance to do it. Really, his stuff never faded, no matter how many pitches he threw. Good command, good action.”
Hanigan guided Freeland through the game. The veteran’s influence was a strong hand. He forced Freeland into a steady stream of cutting fastballs and sliders. They agreed on just one changeup, and no curveballs.
“I wanted him to do what I wanted him to do,” Hanigan said. “And he was nodding along a lot.”
If Freeland’s near no-hitter proves to be a turning point for the Rockies’ rookie-heavy rotation heading through the second half of the season, the lecture from his manager might have set it in motion. They are now on the same page.
“Kyle pitches with a lot of emotion,” Black said. “There’s a fire within him.”