Rockies name Freeland Opening Day starter

March 24th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Rockies left-hander has plenty of success to look back at as he takes the mound for his first Opening Day start Thursday afternoon in Miami.

“It was a really good building block from me,” said Freeland, whose first opener start was confirmed by manager Bud Black in an announcement that surprised no one. “The confidence coming off of a season like that is great. It’s something that I can use going into this season, being able to relate back to that in the season when I’m not feeling so great the first stretch of starts.

“I can look back to last season, ‘What was I doing then?’ I can look back at video and see what I was thinking and be able to repeat what I was doing and fix it.”

Here are some starts that can help Freeland when he needs it:

• Freeland’s Major League debut on April 7, 2017 -- special enough because it was the home opener, even more so because Freeland grew up in Denver. He held the Dodgers to one run and four hits in six innings of a 2-1 victory.

• On July 9, 2017, the final game before the All-Star break, Freeland took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before giving up a one-out single to the White Sox Melky Cabrera in a 10-0 victory.

• Last Sept. 28, with the Rockies needing every win possible to make the postseason, he danced around 11 hits in six innings, but yielded just two runs in a 5-2 victory over the Nationals.

• In his biggest moment thus far, Freeland blanked the Cubs for 6 2/3 innings, on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk, in the National League Wild Card Game -- an eventual 2-1 Rockies win in 13 innings.

But part of what’s driving Freeland is the games he didn’t get to pitch.

With Black sticking with his normal rotation pattern, righty German Marquez started Game 3 of the National League Division Series at home against the Brewers. The Rockies, whose slumping offense hurt more than anything Marquez did, lost, 6-0, and were swept without Freeland taking the mound.

Yes, Freeland finished 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA, conquered Coors to the tune of 10-2, 2.40 in 15 starts, and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting. But not getting to the mound then helped drive him through an offseason that has seen him seek new advantages, like developing his changeup inside against left-handed batters, and his two-seam fastball to the outside against righties. He’s a hungry fellow, and will begin to eat on Opening Day.

“I definitely wanted to get a chance to get in one of those games, whether it was through the ‘pen or with a start,” Freeland said. “I really wanted to turn tides with how that series was going.

“It didn’t come up, but definitely it lights a fire in you, that whenever you get to that situation and get the opportunity, you’re not going to take it for granted. We had 11 more games to win. That’s definitely out there, or will be out there until we hit our end goal of hoisting that World Series trophy.”

But Freeland and the rest of the rotation have 162 games to start on that path.

While surprising no one with the announcement of Freeland for the opener and the rest of his rotation on Sunday, Black said Freeland earned the Opening Day honor.

“We felt as though this was the way to go for Kyle,” Black said. “It’s a great feather in the cap for Kyle, Opening Day starter. That’s a special day in baseball to pitch on Opening Day. We’re all so very proud of Kyle, what he’s accomplished the first couple years of his career.”

Full rotation

After Freeland’s start Thursday, the Rockies will go with Marquez (14-11, 3.77 ERA in 2018) on Friday, lefty Tyler Anderson (7-9, 4.55) on Saturday and righty Jon Gray (12-9, 5.12) next Sunday to complete the four-game series against the Marlins.

Righty Chad Bettis (5-2, 5.01) is expected to open the next series at Tampa Bay next Monday. Bettis was pulled from his final scheduled Spring Training start on Saturday because of a stiff neck, but Black said he emerged from a side session on Sunday morning without pain.

Marquez rebounds

In Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Reds, Marquez struck out four in three-scoreless, one-hit innings -- much better than his previous outing, when he gave up 10 hits and eight runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Angels.

“Working with our pitching coaches, they pointed out that I needed to stay tall and maintain the mechanics throughout the whole game,” Marquez said. “I look at everything in those outings, the positives and the negatives.”

Hoffman optioned

Anticipating that Bettis will be healthy, the Rockies optioned right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman to Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday.

Up next

The Rockies will go with two members of their Triple-A Albuquerque staff in Monday afternoon’s 12:05 p.m. PT exhibition game in Albuquerque. Righty Chi Chi Gonzalez will start for the Rockies and righty Peter Lambert will go for Albuquerque.

Anderson will pitch Monday and Bettis on Tuesday in Minor League games at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Gray will pitch Tuesday at Fort Myers, Fla., against the Twins in the Rockies’ final exhibition game.