DENVER -- Rockies lefty starter Kyle Freeland has had plenty of practice dealing with pain and bad luck. He had to put aside an unwelcome dose of both during the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s 13-6 victory over the Cubs at Coors Field.
Freeland left the game after five frames with a left foot contusion that could have been much worse. But he did leave with just his second win of the season -- and the team’s fifth in his 13 starts, despite overall performance deserving of much better.
He’ll deal with the pain of the former -- X-rays were negative, meaning no fracture was revealed -- and relish happiness for the latter.
“There’s one reason that we’re playing this game at this high level, and it’s to win baseball games,” said Freeland, who gave up two runs (one on an Ian Happ homer) on four hits, struck out five and didn’t walk anyone. “A win’s a win, no matter what. I loved the run support tonight, but I wish I could have gone a little bit deeper.”
Freeland already had five strikeouts and was sailing along in much the same manner of his previous seven starts, when he posted a sub-2.00 ERA. Incredibly, though, during his hot stretch, he had just one win and the team had won just twice, with meager run support being the culprit.
With one out in the fifth, Freeland took an Andrew Romine ground-ball comebacker off the outside of his left foot. He dashed toward third to corral the ball and made a strong throw, too late for an out. Then the pain kicked in and he crumpled.
Freeland successfully lobbied with manager Bud Black and trainers to stay in, and Black stayed for more heart-to-heart.
“I just really wanted to make sure that Kyle was fine to complete that inning,” Black said.
He wasn’t exactly fine. Baseballs off the side of the foot are bad for a pitcher’s heath. But his wanting to stay in the game was understandable. What’s a little more pain in 2021?
Freeland missed almost two months at the beginning with a left shoulder strain. He struggled with command through his first five starts. But when the current hot steak began, a career-long chronic issue with blisters on the middle finger of his pitching hand often shortened his outings. He had to stay away from “factors that are not up to me” so that the lack of run support didn’t leave a mental bruise.
If he could put all that aside throughout the season, surely he could make it through a few more pitches.
“It happens -- the ball was hit so hard, I couldn’t get my foot out of the way,” he said. “The blister, that’s something I’ve been fighting my whole career. The shoulder injury, that was something that just happened. There’s nothing that I did wrong, nothing I was trying to do differently. It’s just one of those things.
“It’s one of those seasons where I’m fighting little injuries. I can’t let it alter my mentality at all. I can’t let that alter my day-to-day, start-to-start kind of stuff. I have to keep going.”
Freeland didn’t have to go much longer. He forced Johneshwy Fargas into a double-play grounder to end the inning. Freeland attempted to warm up for the sixth, but it was decided that he shouldn’t continue.
With pain increasing, Freeland understood that altering his pitching because of the sore foot could create worse problems. To Black, Freeland is as levelheaded as he is competitive.
“Kyle’s a pro -- he understands the game, he understands his place on this team as far as leadership and how to go about a stretch like this, where he’s pitching great and not getting anything in the win column,” Black said. “And he’s certainly a great example each and every day of work ethic, how to be a teammate, how to be a pro. He’s a big part of this team in a lot of ways.”
Freeland said he didn’t hear a pop when he was hit, or or anything that signaled an injury worse than a bruise. But the most nervous moments came before the X-ray.
“Whenever a pitcher takes a line drive or a hard ground ball off any part of their body, there’s that slight concern that something might be fractured or torn,” Freeland said. “That thought was definitely there. But being able to walk around on it, being able to finish off that fifth inning, that was a good sign that it wasn’t fractured.”
Freeland has needed some signs to point his way this season.