WASHINGTON -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland, cool under constant baserunner pressure for much of his time on the bump on Saturday, could finally let loose.
Freeland left the mound stomping and screaming in triumph after six scoreless innings at Nationals Park, which included three double plays -- including one that helped him escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in his final frame -- in the suddenly road-proficient Rockies’ 6-0 victory over the Nats, their third shutout on the road and sixth shutout overall this season.
Freeland finished with 80 pitches, which usually would bode well for another inning. But he expended his energy during his 20-pitch sixth, which began with three straight singles before Freeland turned it around by working Ryan Zimmerman into a 1-2-3 double play.
“No one wants to be put into a bases-loaded jam like that, especially with a veteran hitter like Zimmerman up,” Freeland said. “The whole time, in my mind was, ‘Try and get a comebacker to yourself, so I can keep a run off the board. ... Get a double play, give myself a really good chance to get out of the inning.’”
Freeland and the Rockies caused joyful noises while improving their record on their first winning road trip of the season to 7-1, with Sunday ending the happy ride.
Brendan Rodgers swatted his third homer in four games -- a first-inning two-run shot -- and added a double and a single. Trevor Story homered for three runs in the fourth -- his fifth round-tripper in his last 10 games.
Freeland’s competitive fire makes him special. But Saturday he showed quite the thought process. Freeland displayed his ability to shake off hits, whether on pitches he left up in the zone or balls that Nats hitters scooted along the ground between fielders. And he took advantage of hot, muggy weather by realizing his two-seam sinking fastball and his curveball -- usually complements to his four-seam fastball and changeup -- would be his best pitches.
Story, who participated in the other two double plays, was happy for the work Freeland’s ground-ball pitching sent his way.
“Every time ‘Free’ is going, as an infield as a whole -- but especially the left side -- we feel like we’re going to be pretty busy, and we embrace that,” Story said.
And Freeland showed discretion after the sixth.
“He could have gone out there and tried to go seven, but he honestly told me that he was spent,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Hey, it was hot today. It was humid. And he threw 20 really competitive pitches that inning. He emptied the tank, and he told me so.”
It seems Freeland is making a habit of showing up at Nationals Park needing a good performance, and providing just that.
On Sept. 1, Freeland exited a start at Texas after one inning with a left hip impingement, then he gave up 11 runs in 10 1/3 innings across his next two starts. So Saturday’s outing, when he pitched around seven hits and one walk with timely grounders and seven strikeouts, represented a rebound.
Last time Freeland pitched at Nationals Park was July 24, 2019. Freeland had gone more than two months without lasting as many as six innings in a Major League game. He had spent a month and a half of that at Triple-A Albuquerque trying to regain the form that in 2018 helped him finish fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. So his outing against the Nats -- six innings, four hits and one unearned run -- was a long time coming.
And Freeland finished it, well, at the top of his lungs. After being removed from the game, he so vociferously protested Jon Libka’s strike zone that he earned an ejection.
“I honestly can’t tell you,” Freeland said when asked why he’s succeeded in the nation’s capital. “Maybe it’s the mound."
Ironically, the Rockies’ homers Saturday came off Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin -- the same pitcher who had started for Washington when Freeland was ejected in ‘19, mainly because Freeland thought Libka gave Corbin strikes in the same location that his pitches were called balls.