Márquez, Freeland intend to lead Rox to better days

Frontline starters each end 2022 campaign with solid outings vs. Dodgers

October 3rd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- For 159 games, Rockies manager Bud Black’s mantra has been to try to win that particular contest. The turn to younger players the last month or so has made it harder, and just maybe created the kind of tension a last-place team needs.

But in the dugout late in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Dodgers, just the Rockies’ second win in the last 13 games, Black tilted toward next year when addressing his chief pitching lieutenants: , who yielded just one hit and fanned eight in six stellar innings Sunday, and , who fanned eight Saturday night only to see the bullpen blow a lead.

“Eight strikeouts and a hit -- a blooper, right?” Black said of Márquez. “And I told him and Kyle -- they were together at the end of the dugout -- when you make every start as a Major League starting pitcher, that’s responsibility. And we also talked about how things are going to be different next year.

“Germán’s in that mindset. Those two guys went to the post, and Germán today led the way.”

Freeland eloquently aired his frustration after Saturday’s game. Márquez didn’t have to deal with frustration this time.

That's because of contributions on several fronts.

Younger players figured in a two-run top of the ninth. Sean Bouchard followed Randal Grichuk’s leadoff triple with an RBI double. Michael Toglia then singled and was brought home on Ezequiel Tovar’s first big league RBI hit, a single to right field.

Daniel Bard closed the game by striking out six in two innings, a feat accomplished just five times since saves became a stat in 1969.

And, in the “play of the game,” according to Márquez, rookie shortstop Tovar robbed Will Smith of a leadoff single in the fourth.

"That's my favorite play," Tovar said of ranging to his right. "I had, like, three opportunities, but made that one."

Márquez experienced his fill of chagrin 2022. After earning an All-Star nod last year, he started this season poorly and finished with a 5.00 ERA. Sunday’s was his 16th quality start among his 30 this year, but he had more than his share of howlers.

Much like Freeland, he doesn’t mind demanding a standard of his club while also pushing himself to be better.

“Me and Kyle have been together for six years,” Márquez said. “It’s good to have that guy next to me, getting that support. We’re going to get everything together for next year.

“Trust me, next year is going to be amazing.”

How do Márquez, signed through next season with a club option for ’24, and Freeland, signed through 2026 with a vesting option for ’27, plan to amaze?

Much of Márquez’s career, he has worked outside to right-handers (in to lefties) with his four-seam fastball, slider and spike curveball. He came into ’22 forcing his two-seamer and changeup to the other side of the plate, but spent much of the season in the 5.00s and 6.00s in ERA because of missed fastball location.

But he never abandoned his plan. Black said there is “room to do a few different things with his fastball, and the changeup is not where it needs to be.” But those improvements can come from growth, rather than change.

After spending last offseason in Denver, believing working at altitude would make him better, he plans to divide this offseason among Denver, his home in Venezuela and Scottsdale, Ariz., the way he had much of his career. He’ll stay with what he knows, but hopefully, get better.

“For the first months, I was struggling, but I got everything working and I started getting my results,” Márquez said during the season’s final weeks. “There was nothing wrong with my plan.”

Freeland (4.53 ERA) broke in as a mirror image of Márquez, built on challenging right-handed hitters inside. But a sinking fastball and offspeed pitches he can use on each side have him at the point at which Black said his challenge is to develop pinpoint command with what he has.

“That’s every pitcher, once they get to Kyle’s point,” Black said.

Freeland likes pitching with self-awareness.

“Just because of one outing, I’m not going to ditch everything,” said Freeland, who at times experimented with different deliveries and tried various thought processes. “I watch video, remember what I felt, what I saw and evaluate my outings. But I don’t want to be constantly searching for stuff.”

The struggles of Freeland and Márquez, plus an injury-filled year for Antonio Senzatela, played a big part in the team’s difficulties this year. But Márquez said they own it.

“Good games, bad games, when you are a leader -- all the weight is on your shoulders,” Márquez said. “But we like that. We keep competing. This year was a speed bump.”