Freeland working on changeup, waiting on arb decision

March 28th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The issue for Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland is pressing. A decision must be made by the time the regular season begins.

And, no, it has nothing to do with the dollars, as in the gap between the 2022 salary he is seeking ($7.8 million) and the Rockies’ offer ($6.425 million) in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility. Others are in charge of settling that -- either through negotiation for one year or a multi-year deal, or a hearing that could take place distractingly in-season.

Freeland needs all his concentration for his real issue. The forkball-ish changeup that science told him he needs to develop isn’t working. Freeland allowed four earned runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings of the Rockies’ 4-4 tie against the Reds on Sunday.

“Everything that was barreled was that change,” Freeland said. “There’s a possibility I might abandon it.

“I’m going to be trying to make that adjustment between now and my start on Friday.”

Freeland, who burst onto the scene in 2017 and finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2018 as the Rockies made consecutive postseason appearances, was a lot less bothered by consecutively hitting Kyle Farmer and Nick Senzel with fastballs in the second inning. The Senzel plunking forced in a run.

“Farmer was on top of the plate,” Freeland said. “If he wants to be that close to the dish, he’s going to get hit a lot this year and he’s not going to want that. He’s a lot closer now. Senzel, that was just weird. I was just trying to be too fine with the fastball inside.”

The new changeup came after his study of advanced metrics showed that he could create a desired spin profile. Freeland has spent time gripping a softball to get used to spreading his fingers enough to throw it. However, he can still go back to the circle-ish (the thumb and index finger don’t touch in this grip) change he has used in the past, which he can manipulate for location’s sake.

But in order to know why the new grip didn’t work, he threw it repeatedly against the Reds.

“We didn’t shy away from it,” said Freeland, who was especially happy with his slider, and felt good about his fastball and curve. “We wanted to throw it and find what adjustments we need to make. I continued to throw it. It got hit. That’s OK. That’s why we’re in Spring Training.”

The lockout delayed the arbitration process. Instead of having figures traded, contracts signed or even hearings done before camp, the process could extend into the season.

The filing of figures, with $7.1 million being the midpoint between player and team filings, could lead to an agreement. The sides have been talking to months with no success, and as of last week nothing was imminent.

“Everything is going good,” Freeland said. “We’ll find out when hearings are and everything like that moving forward. But right now my focus is not on that. It’s about getting ready for the season, because whatever pans out over the next month is going to go one way or the other, and both sides have to deal with it.”

Teams often stop negotiating when figures are traded, but that hasn’t always been the case with the Rockies. Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon all reached agreements after the figures were exchanged but before having a hearing. Arenado’s six-year, $260 million deal came after the filing deadline.

The Rockies have had just five hearings in their history, the last in 2019 when catcher Tony Wolters was assigned the club’s $1.9 million offer instead of his $2.45 million filing.

Freeland’s case is its own negotiating entity, but he is pleased with free-agent signings of left fielder Kris Bryant, reliever Alex Colomé, shortstop José Iglesias and starter Chad Kuhl, and a trade with the Blue Jays for center fielder Randal Grichuk. The team also has reached multi-year deals since the end of last season with first baseman C.J. Cron, starter Antonio Senzatela, catcher Elias Díaz and (during camp) third baseman Ryan McMahon.

“It’s very encouraging to see the additions we’ve made, the moves we’ve made this offseason and early in Spring Training to get this team where we believe we’re going to be a contender in the NL West and all of baseball moving forward.”