LOS ANGELES -- Aside from one swing -- and one odd mound visit -- nothing came close to flustering left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
In his sixth straight standout start, Freeland went a season-high seven innings, struck out six and didn’t walk any. The Rockies lost to the Dodgers, 1-0, because of the combination of Austin Barnes’ second-inning leadoff home run and the Rockies managing just two hits.
In his last six starts, Freeland has a 2.06 ERA (eight earned runs in 35 innings) with 30 strikeouts. His WHIP in that span is a miniscule 1.00.
Skating along like that on a night when even a chronic blistering problem on his left middle finger didn't flare up for once, Freeland flashed a look of utter surprise when the Rockies asked for an injury timeout on his behalf with one out in the sixth. Acting manager Mike Redmond (Bud Black is still under MLB’s COVID and contact-tracing protocol), pitching coach Steve Foster and athletic trainer Scotty Gehret jogged to the mound, alerted that Freeland had squatted to stretch a tight hip.
They didn’t stay long.
“I told them, ‘I’m good,’” Freeland said. “It was a little tight so I was squatting down, stretching, opening it up a little bit. I was a little surprised, but they thought they had seen something the pitch before. It was nothing.”
It’s little wonder the Rockies want to make sure Freeland is feeling, well, free.
Freeland sustained a left shoulder strain in Spring Training, missed nearly two months of the regular season and posted a 9.58 ERA his first five starts back, as he regained his delivery timing. But starting with five innings of one-run ball and seven strikeouts at Seattle on June 22, Freeland has approached his form of 2018, when he finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting, and much of the shortened 2020 season.
“Once I was able to figure out kind of what was going on in some of my mechanics, pitch selection and getting things out front, I could really start rolling and start building that confidence -- outing to outing, even pitch to pitch, feeling everything that I want to feel,” Freeland said.
Granted, the Rockies are fourth in the National League West, well out of the Giants-Dodgers-Padres race for postseason spots. And the Dodgers lineup was weakened because Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger were out with knocks, and Max Muncy and his wife were celebrating the birth of their first child. But Dodger Stadium on Saturday night in a close game is special, no matter.
“Ever since I've been in the league, they've been winning the division,” Freeland said. “So whenever you get asked to take the ball and face a team like the Dodgers, that has the history that they have, the caliber of team that they have, it's always fun to match up against those guys, show your stuff, and do your best to dominate them.”
Freeland’s dominance would have been the entire story had the Rockies either shown the hitting of Saturday’s 9-6, 10-inning victory (12 hits, including four home runs) or the resourcefulness of two wins at San Diego before the All-Star break. Those three games constitute the longest road win streak this season by the Rockies. Saturday resembled many of the games during this year’s 10-35 road performance -- competitive, but lacking the offense to flip a result.
This time, Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings, and a bullpen relay ended with closer Kenley Jansen ignoring a spirited fan contest -- angry boos versus hopeful cheers -- to pitch a scoreless ninth.
“I guess every once in a while, you’ve got to tip your hat,” Redmond said. “They did a nice job pitching tonight. We just weren't able to get any more sustained in any type of rally.”