A Year Later, Freeland Has Established Himself Among MLB Elite

The maturation of Kyle Freeland as a big-league starting pitcher is underscored by him being tabbed to start the NL Wild-Card Game for the Rockies against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.

Think about it.

Not only is he getting the start in a win-or-go-home game, but he is being asked to stop the Cubs on three days of rest, the first time in his career he has legitimately started with less than four days between appearances.

Coors Field Season W-L ERA
Kyle Freeland 2018 10-2 2.40
Jorge De La Rosa 2013 10-1 2.76
Jorge De La Rosa 2014 10-2 3.08
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 9-2 3.19
Denny Stark 2002 8-1 3.21
Ubaldo Jimenez 2008 7-4 3.31
Ubaldo Jimenez 2009 8-5 3.34
Jason Jennings 2006 5-5 3.56
Jhoulys Chacin 2011 6-7 3.57
Joe Kennedy 2004 6-1 3.59
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Full Season Season W-L ERA
Kyle Freeland 2018 17-7 2.85
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 19-8 2.88
Jhoulys Chacin 2013 14-10 3.47
Ubaldo Jimenez 2009 15-12 3.47
Jorge De La Rosa 2013 16-6 3.49
Jhoulys Chacin 2011 11-14 3.62
Joe Kennedy 2004 9-7 3.66
German Marquez 2018 14-11 3.77
Jason Jennings 2006 9-13 3.78
Aaron Cook 2008 16-9 3.96

The Denver native, born slightly more than a month after the Rockies played the first game in their existence back in 1993, is in his second big-league season, but definitely understands the respect being shown by manager Bud Black and the Rockies organization handing him the ball for this game.

“I know it is a rare opportunity,” said Freeland. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in, and I’m not taking it for granted, one bit.”

This isn’t an emotional decision on the Rockies part. They decided to pass over Antonio Senzatela, who would be the starter in the wild-card game if the Rockies stayed with their rotation, and bring back Freeland early because he has earned the honor as the ace of their rotation.

The left-hander, after all, is getting his name thrown around in Cy Young conversations, although it’s unlikely anyone other than Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom wins that honor. He has set franchise records for season ERA and Coors Field ERA, and his 17 wins equal the franchise record for a left-handed pitcher set by Jeff Francis.

And he last pitched on Friday night in a win against the Phillies, when he battled his way through six innings, limiting the Phillies to two runs despite giving up 11 hits, in a 5-2 Rockies victory.

“He will be fine,” said Rockies manager Bud Black. “His arm has been pretty sOlid all year, so the short rest is not going to be a factor when he takes the mound.”

What a difference a year makes.

Freeland was a surprise to make the Rockies Opening Day rotation in 2017, and was a solid part of the rotation in the first half of the season. By the end of July, he was 11-7 with a 3.71 ERA. He, however, made three more starts before being moved into the bullpen for four appearances, and then getting the call to start the final day of the regular season.

Technically, that start against the Dodgers, was on three days of rest. He had pitched in relief on Sept. 27, but faced only two batters, and he was lifted after giving up two runs in three innings in the start, which was designed, as much as anything, because the Rockies weren’t planning to use him in the wild-card game against the Diamondbacks two nights later.

This year, Freeland never lost a bit. If anything, he got stronger as the season went on, and while he might not be that Madison Bumgarner/Clayton Kershaw-power-lefty in the rotation, he has shown an uncanny ability to change speeds, master both a curveball and slider, and have no fear at Coors Field.

Check the numbers.

Since July 1, he is 10-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 17 starts, the Rockies going 15-2 in those games. Overall, he was 10-2 in 15 starts at Coors Field (the Rockies were 13-2) with a 2.40 ERA. The Rockies have had only 13 pitchers with a Coors Field ERA below 4.00, and the only other one with an ERA below 3.00 was Jorge De La Rosa, who had a 2.76 Coors Field ERA in 2013. His season ERA of 2.85 is also a franchise record. The only other time a Rockies pitcher qualified for the ERA title with a mark below 3.00 was in 2010 when Ubaldo Jimenez set a franchise-record with 19 wins and had a 2.85 ERA.

He certainly has the confidence of his teammates.

“He has been our best guy,” said outfielder Charlie Blackmon. “It seems like every time he is out there, we are winning, we have a chance to win, or we do win. He’s an amazing competitor. I’m sure he’ll rise to the occasion. If he just pitches like he normally pitches, we’re going to be fine.”

Freeland faced the Cubs only once in the regular season – a 3-1 loss on April 30. He allowed the three runs on six hits in seven innings.

That, he admitted, is a baseline for him in his preparation for the Wild-Card start.

“I have reports from (April) and I did a couple reports (Sunday) preparing for what could happen,” he said. “I went back and watched the video, checked on some guys to see if they made any adjustments. “

For himself, Freeland said, the adjustments will be minimal – if at all.

“It’s going to be the same game plan me and (catcher) Chris Iannetta have been doing all year,” said Freeland.

And why not?

You don’t mess with success.

Tracy RingolsbyComment