Notes: Freeland, Valaika continue stellar springs

Plus updates on Desmond, Davis, Murphy and bullpen

March 4th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander escaped Sunday with four strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the Rockies' 9-3 win over the Giants at Salt River Fields. Just as importantly, he didn't show Colorado's division rivals too much.

After a 17-win campaign in 2018, Freeland is looking to diversify his pitch mix just enough to keep from becoming predictable. But facing a National League West opponent, he wasn’t going to reveal his full plan.

"We kept the book closed a little bit the first two innings, where we threw a lot of fastballs and were getting ahead with fastballs,” Freeland said. “I’m probably going to start against them at least five times this year. Third inning, I opened up the book just a little bit more just to get out of it. I let my stuff work."

In the third, the Giants’ Steven Duggar worked a walk and Buster Posey singled with one out. In a jam, Freeland used a slider, changeup and four-seam fastball to fan Evan Longoria on three pitches, and used the same mix on a four-pitch strikeout of Brandon Belt.

Valaika keeps turning the page

After 16 pinch-hit RBIs in 2017, not only slumped to a .156 average in 68 games last season, but he went 1-for-27 with Hermosillo in the Mexican Winter League. But Valaika has homered three times in the past two games. On Sunday he had a two-run shot in the seventh off Giants righty Jose Lopez, and he added a solo shot in the eighth against Sam Wolff.

The confidence is back.

"I did a lot of lower-half stuff," said Valaika, who suffered an oblique injury last spring and never really found his swing. "I wanted to slow it down, piece it together from the beginning. I just wanted a fresh start, and I realize it starts from the ground up."

Daring Desmond

went 2-for-2 with a triple on Sunday. He got the three-bagger by taking a chance on a ball in the left-field corner.

"You pick your spots. I felt good, felt loose today, had a good session in the gym before I went and took the field,” Desmond said. “It was one of those times I felt it was OK to go for it. I’m not going to say I’m going to do that every Spring Training game."

Davis’ solid debut

Closer was held out of Cactus League play until Sunday, when he struck out one in a spotless fourth inning. He threw mostly fastballs, but -- being a pitcher who maintained his pitch mix after moving from starter to relief -- he sequenced in curves and cutters, as well.

The idea of holding off until Sunday was to allow Davis to build toward a regular-season pattern of pitching before tapering off.

"I’ll be ready for anything, ideally," he said.

Bullpen chronicles

Lefty struck out two in his inning, and topped 95 mph on five of his seven four-seam fastballs. He is working on a slider, which he used twice, but he is best when velocity is consistent. … Righty Bryan Shaw yielded a run on three hits to lift his Cactus League ERA to 10.13. But he was saved by a diving catch in right field by Rockies No. 10 prospect Sam Hilliard to start a double play. … Righty Seunghwan Oh, who woke up with a stiff neck on Saturday before turning in a four-run, two-homer line in two-thirds of an inning, said he has changed pillows.

Murphy making the most

Catcher disappeared from regular duty after struggling offensively and defensively in key games last August, but in the early stages of Spring Training, he is making the most of a new chance. Out of Minor League options after being a touted prospect early in his career, Murphy homered off hard-throwing righty Carson Fulmer in Saturday’s 10-6 loss to the White Sox.

"I’m trying to keep my expectations down but my standards high, so I’m going to play to my standards and I’m not going to worry about any of that other stuff," said Murphy, who turns 28 on April 3.

Regular Chris Iannetta is turning 36 on April 8 and Tony Wolters has shown that he is better defensively than offensively. Could Murphy go from uncertain future to ample playing time? That depends on whether he shows what the Rockies expected when they took him in the third round of the 2012 Draft, out of the University of Buffalo.

"Even though he’s a confident guy, he’s more confident in his total game," Rockies manager Bud Black said.

Up next

Righty German Marquez will start Monday at Surprise, Ariz., against the Rangers and righty Edinson Volquez. Jeff Hoffman and Peter Lambert are also expected to get in the game for Colorado. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. MT.