Free­land shows off his fire in bounc­ing back staunchly

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

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.”

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