SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Sometimes it's best to see a pitcher when he's not at his finest. If that's the case, Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland's not-so-good Monday afternoon was good for him.Freeland's first five pitches against the Rangers were balls. He exhausted 94 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings, and gave
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Sometimes it's best to see a pitcher when he's not at his finest. If that's the case, Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland's not-so-good Monday afternoon was good for him.
Freeland's first five pitches against the Rangers were balls. He exhausted 94 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings, and gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks in the Rockies' 6-5 loss.
Four straight strong Cactus League starts (one earned run, 12 strikeouts, one walk) had put Freeland -- the Rockies' top pick in the 2014 MLB Draft -- in good position to earn a spot in the season-opening rotation. But oddly, he's battling through a lack of command.
"It tests you to see if you can keep a team within a certain [number of] runs, and keep them in it as long as possible," said Freeland, 23, a Denver native and Thomas Jefferson High graduate who was drafted out of the University of Evansville. "I believe I did a good job of it. Definitely there are areas of improvement on that with getting behind hitters. I need to get ahead of guys."
Freeland, the Rockies' No. 6 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, managed to escape unscathed despite his scattershot beginning. He walked Delino DeShields and was down 1-0 to Elvis Andrus when he picked DeShields off first, then escaped with no runs in the inning.
For the second straight game, Freeland delivered a bases-loaded, two-run single, this one for a 2-0 lead in the top of the second. But he gave up doubles to Mike Napoli and Robinson Chirinos, leading to a Jurickson Profar RBI single in the Rangers' two-run second. He also yielded a Napoli homer on a 1-0 pitch to lead off the bottom of the fourth.
"They have a very good lineup, pretty much one through nine, and they can hit a lot of things," Freeland said. "They showed that today."
Rockies manager Bud Black said he was hit when up in the zone, succeeded when down, and wasn't efficient, and the adjustment is a matter of returning to delivery fundamentals. But he said "you can draw some positives from today," and he is being judged on his overall spring work.
Righty Jon Gray, lefty Tyler Anderson and righty Tyler Chatwood are established as the top three in the rotation. The pitching schedule suggests Freeland and righty Antonio Senzatela, who will start Tuesday against the Rangers at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, are in line for the final two spots.
Lefty Harrison Musgrave has been used as a reliever his last two outings. Righty German Marquez, who had a strong outing last time out against the Cubs -- but is being called upon to improve his secondary pitches -- is the other competitor.
Freeland is scheduled to start Saturday's Spring Training finale at home against the Rangers.
"I definitely didn't feel any added pressure," Freeland said. "I focus on the work I need to do."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.