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Freeland takes step forward in latest rotation bid

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland wasn't efficient, but being effective was a step in the right direction on Thursday afternoon.

Freeland, trying to overcome multi-run outings in his first two Cactus League performances, walked two and gave up three hits but yielded just one run over three innings. He fanned three batters and forced a double-play grounder during a 3-2 walk-off win over the Reds at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland wasn't efficient, but being effective was a step in the right direction on Thursday afternoon.

Freeland, trying to overcome multi-run outings in his first two Cactus League performances, walked two and gave up three hits but yielded just one run over three innings. He fanned three batters and forced a double-play grounder during a 3-2 walk-off win over the Reds at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

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The pitch count soared to 51 (28 strikes), which cost him a chance to pitch into the fourth. But after allowing five runs on eight hits over five innings in his previous two outings, Freeland was happier Thursday.

Video: CIN@COL: Black on Freeland's start, walk-off win

"I felt better today," Freeland said. "I felt much more on top of the ball, commanding the strike zone, occasionally falling behind but for the most part getting ahead. With the runners on, just stay calm, poised and do whatever I need to do to get out of it."

The rotation competition is early, but with Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and German Marquez seeming solid, Chad Bettis serving the role of the staff's veteran and Jeff Hoffman currently nursing a sore right shoulder, Freeland and Antonio Senzatela look to be competing for the remaining spot. Senzatela has a 3.00 ERA with eight hits, seven strikeouts and three walks in three outings spanning nine innings.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Freeland and Senzatela each can claim to have addressed a shortcoming in his previous outing: On Thursday, Freeland limited the fastballs up in the zone that had been an issue, while Senzatela recorded his first walk-free appearance on Wednesday against the Rangers.

The only run Freeland allowed came on Devin Mesoraco's RBI single after a Rosell Herrera single and a walk to Eugenio Suarez, who drew both of Freeland's free passes. But Freeland forced a Cliff Pennington double play to end the second and overcame his second walk by forcing a Mesoraco grounder to finish off the third.

To trim his pitch count, Freeland said the key is "just get strike one. It improves your chances of getting that batter out by a serious percentage."

Method behind the not-so-madness
One reason the Rockies are looking for a way to drop center fielder Charlie Blackmon from first to third in the batting order: Blackmon ranked second in the National League with a .379 batting average with runners on base. DJ LeMahieu, who hit second, was tied for fifth at .346 and Nolan Arenado, who hit third and fourth, was seventh at .345.

However, Blackmon had just 195 at-bats with runners on -- far fewer than LeMahieu's 263 and Arenado's 284. If Blackmon is hitting behind an effective top hitter and LeMahieu, it could maximize those chances.

In slugging with runners on, Blackmon's .682 led the NL and Arenado's .651 was third.

Injury update
Outfielder Gerardo Parra, recovering from right hand surgery he underwent just before Spring Training, reported feeling good after taking live batting practice against Minor Leaguers on Wednesday and hit off a pitching machine Thursday. He will have another such session and hopes to enter Cactus League play over the weekend.

Video: Parra discusses near return for first time in 2018

Position competition
It was all about hustle for the outfield competitors. Raimel Tapia went 1-for-2 with a bunt single from the leadoff spot. Mike Tauchman finished 1-for-3, negated a possible double play by hustling to first and made a strong catch in left on a line drive. David Dahl, who took 10 at-bats between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning with a "B" game between two Cactus League contests, went 1-for-3.

Prospects at the end
Sam Hilliard, an outfielder who is the Rockies' No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline, delivered the game-winning RBI on a two-strike, two-out single past third base to lift his Cactus League average to .381 after a 2-for-2 day. No. 1 prospect Brendan Rodgers was 2-for-4 with a steal after entering as the shortstop, righty Ryan Castellani (No. 8) gave up one run on two hits in two innings and Garrett Hampson (No. 7) made a slick backhanded fielding play.

All were part of a prospect-dominated Class A Advanced Lancaster team that had several players earn Major League camp invites. Bud Black has managed the end of games with intent, since he could be seeing several of the players soon.

"We talk about all these steps we've got to take all the time, and these are little steps," Black said. "It's a Spring Training game, but in big league camp -- they've never been here before -- so we look for certain things because we want to know these players as they go through the system, to see what they can actually do."

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies

The early bird
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is urging the spring break crowd to arrive early for games to alleviate delays entering stadiums. Last Sunday, the largest crowd in park history watched the Cubs and D-backs. With screening processes in place, there were delays.

Up next: Righty Jon Gray, who has been experimenting with various phases of his motion, will make his third spring start, as the Indians visit at 1:10 p.m. MT on Friday. Among the relievers scheduled to pitch are lefty Zac Rosscup and righty Jairo Diaz, who are attempting to earn Opening Day roster spots.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Kyle Freeland