Kyle Freeland: Armed and Ready for 2nd Time Around
SCOTTSDALE, Az. – While Yency Almonte and Sam Howard were on the mound for the Rockies in their Cactus League game on the main field at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Sunday afternoon, Kyle Freeland pitched on a back field at the complex, facing the Angels Triple-A roster in a minor-league game.
A message being sent?
A good message for Freeland.
In a spring training that opened with seven candidates for the five-man Opening Day rotation, and was whittled down to six when Jeff Hoffman developed shoulder stiffness, there is nothing wrong with getting sent to the minor league camp for a full day’s work, especially when two pitchers destined to open the season at Triple-A Albuquerque are pitching in the “big league game.”
Manager Bud Black and staff have been careful not to indicate anything about the rotation, other than Jon Gray has been in line since his first start of the spring to start the season opener against the D-Backs at Bank One Ballpark March 29.
However, the fact Freeland is pitching on a back field in the final two weeks of spring traditionally, at least, would be an indication that the focus right now is on getting in his work so that he has his arm strength built up for the start of the season. His spring has been about building off last season.
There haven't been late nights playing the "what if" game, hoping to get to the big leagues.
“You catch yourself thinking about it sometimes,” he said. “Obviously the goal is to break with the team at the end of (spring) camp. But you have to understand, there are a lot of decisions being made, and there is a lot of good pitching going on. So, you have to be prepared for whatever happens.
“You have to take care of your business. You go out there every single day and do what you need to do to give yourself the best chance possible.”
Last year there was a focus he couldn't ignore. Freeland was coming off a minor-league season that began with Double-A Hartford and ended with Triple-A Albuquerque. His spring was spent trying to make an impression on the big-league staff, which he did, earning a spot in the season-opening rotation.
There is, after all, a special meaning for him to be a member of the Rockies. He literally grew up with the Rockies. He was born in Denver 39 days after the first regular-season game in Rockies history -- against the Mets at Shea Stadium on April 5, 1993. A Thomas Jefferson High School alum, Freeland made frequent trips to Coors Field. And then came that magic moment, after his junior year at at Evansville University, when the Rockies made him the seventh player selected in the 2014 June Draft.
And then, last year, the childhood dream came true. He made his Major League Debut as the starting pitcher in the Rockies home opener.
During the season he reinforced the decision to jump him to the big leagues. He was 11-11, and went into the off-season knowing he needed to make adjustments. He was 9-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 17 starts prior to the All-Star Break, including 8 1/3 no-hit innings against the White Sox on July 9, the longest no-hit bid for a Rockies pitcher at Coors Field. His second half struggles saw him in the bullpen at season's end.
So this spring, Freeland is focused on adjusting in his mechanics and pitch selection, aware that some days could be rougher than others, but confident that as he refines the various parts of his game it will allow him to take a step forward after a solid rookie season.
“When I came into spring training there was a check list for me of things I wanted to work on and get done before we break camp,” said Freeland. “I wanted to work on them in games, so I get comfortable with them and during the season I’m not worried about them. They are more second nature.”
It’s nothing major. Most media and fans won’t even notice a difference except, Freeland hopes, when they see the results.
“We kind of tweaked my mechanics, getting down the mound more directional than rotational,” said Freeland. “My front leg would swing, sometimes. We shaved my mechanics slightly to where my front leg is just going as straight down the mound as it can to keep me in a good line.”
Freeland, however, isn’t oblivious to the fact there is still competition for five spots among the six healthy starters – himself, Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela – and that Hoffman is expected to be ready to become a factor sometime in April.
In fact, he likes it.
“It’s great,” he said. “It is similar to last year, where it is going to come down to performance and a lot of what (manager) Bud (Black) thinks along with what the coaching staff thinks,” he said. “The competition makes us better as a whole. It is only going to sharpen our tools for those guys who aren’t in the starting five. When they get their opportunity, they will come up and be ready and know what to do.”
That worked for the Rockies last year.
No sense to doubt the approach this year.