DENVER -- With the bases loaded and just one out in the top of the fifth, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland found himself in a familiar position, having to pitch his way out of another Athletics threat.Just as he did throughout his six scoreless innings, Freeland remained cool under pressure, working
DENVER -- With the bases loaded and just one out in the top of the fifth, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland found himself in a familiar position, having to pitch his way out of another Athletics threat.
Just as he did throughout his six scoreless innings, Freeland remained cool under pressure, working out of jams in the first and second, as well. The left-hander's outing was yet was another solid start by a Colorado starting pitcher at Coors Field, en route to a 3-1 Rockies win on Friday night over the Athletics in the Interleague series opener.
The victory kept Colorado in the thick of the National League West race and matched its season-high of being eight games over .500. The Rockies remain two games back from the division-leading Dodgers, who beat the Braves on Friday.
Freeland said his poise in tough situations like those he faced against Oakland comes from being a quick learner in the Majors.
"Not letting emotions set in or whatever's happening on the bases [is important], not letting that crawl into your mind," he said. "You still have to be out there and execute pitches the best way possible."
Freeland and the rest of the Rockies rotation are a big reason why those two games behind first place don't look so bad. Freeland, who has a 2.45 ERA at Coors Field this season, has led the rotation into a turnaround that has Colorado itching for a playoff spot. In July, Rockies starters are 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 12 games at Coors Field.
The Rockies' starting pitching leads the Majors in ERA since June 28 at 2.94, and Colorado is 17-5 in that span, with its starters going 9-2. The turnaround started when the Rockies went to Los Angeles for a three-game series against the Dodgers on June 29, and starters Tyler Anderson and German Marquez both went eight innings.
"Whenever you see a guy go seven, eight innings and completely dominate the lineup, you want to go and do the same thing the next time," Freeland said. "So you definitely feed off of each other."
Rockies manager Bud Black said that the pitching staff has emphasized pounding the strike zone early to put away hitters and not let the opposition get back into counts when the pitchers are ahead.
"I saw a transformation in their aggressiveness from the first pitch on," Black said. "And not going out on the corners early on -- going in with guys with their best stuff on their first pitch. Attack. You've seen the result."
As much as Rockies starters have dominated lately, the bullpen hasn't fallen apart of late, either. On Friday, right-hander Bryan Shaw gave up one run on two doubles in the seventh, but he struck out Khris Davis before Black brought in right-hander Scott Oberg, who got Stephen Piscotty swinging to end the frame. Oberg then loaded the bases in the eighth, but he struck out Matt Chapman, who reached three times, looking to escape the jam. Oakland stranded 13 and was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Adam Ottavino recorded his fourth save of the season instead of usual closer Wade Davis. Davis threw 1 1/3 innings against the Astros in Tuesday night's loss and earned the save against them on Wednesday. Black felt like Davis needed more rest, so he turned to Ottavino.
The Rockies offense got on the board against A's starter Sean Manaea when Garrett Hampson executed a squeeze bunt to score Noel Cuevas in the second inning. Then in the fifth, Ian Desmond extended his hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI single that scored Charlie Blackmon. Nolan Arenado followed that by launching a solo home run, his 100th career homer at Coors Field, that traveled a projected 454 feet, according to Statcast™. The clout put him atop the National League home run leaderboard at 26.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Freeland pitched his way out of runners in scoring position many times, but the jam that mattered most was in the eighth inning with Oberg on the mound.
Oberg gave up singles to Mark Canha and Jonathan Lucroy. Pinch-hitter Nick Martini then grounded into a forceout, but Marcus Semien then walked to load the bases with a red-hot Chapman coming up.
Oberg threw him two strikes and two balls, but he caught Chapman looking on an 87.4-mph slider to end the frame and keep the Rockies' 3-1 lead intact.
"[Oberg] has been pitching great for a while now," Ottavino said. "I knew somebody was probably going to have to go one-plus [innings] at some point. It was his time, and he kept going at them, kept going at them, and got out of it eventually."
The Rockies seem to be changing the way opponents look at the hitter-friendly Coors Field this month. Colorado has held opponents to one or fewer runs at home seven times this year, with five of those games coming in July.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
These days, it's hard to differentiate Rockies shortstop Trevor Story from Arenado when they make defensive plays. In the second inning, Story barehanded a grounder, picked it up mid-stride and launched it to first base to beat Chapman to the bag.
"I kind of wanted that ball, but he called me off," Arenado said. "But it was an unbelievable play. Chapman can run a little bit. Story's been playing great defense. He brings it every night. He's been unbelievable this year.
"I'm OK with him making that play there. I wanted it, but he's good."
Right-hander Antonio Senzatela (3-3, 5.55 ERA) has struggled in his last two starts -- to the tune of 10 runs in 11 1/3 innings. But he and manager Bud Black note that the difference is a handful of pitches. Senzatela hopes to find the missing consistency when he faces the Athletics and lefty Brett Anderson (2-2, 5.46) -- once with the Rockies -- on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. MT.
Anne Rogers is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver.