DENVER -- As collective velocities and strikeouts rise across the baseball landscape, Kyle Freeland is OK with being grounded, in every sense of the word.With the Majors' third-highest ground-ball rate entering Sunday (57.8 percent), the rookie left-hander kept his infield busy with 12 ground ball outs in Sunday's 13-3 win
DENVER -- As collective velocities and strikeouts rise across the baseball landscape, Kyle Freeland is OK with being grounded, in every sense of the word.
With the Majors' third-highest ground-ball rate entering Sunday (57.8 percent), the rookie left-hander kept his infield busy with 12 ground ball outs in Sunday's 13-3 win over the Pirates, leading to his seventh quality start at Coors Field in his ninth try. It was a trademark performance for the left-hander, who lowered his home ERA to 3.21, or 1.91 if you remove two poor outings in which he gave up a combined 11 earned runs.
"He creates top-hit action because his stuff is lively down in the zone," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "He has the ability to pitch up and in at times, and he's got to do that to keep them honest up, but his bread and butter is down, and we saw that today."
To give Black's assertion statistical backing, Freeland is generating a "topped" rate -- a Statcast™ measurement of balls driven straight into the ground -- on 48.3 percent of all the batted balls he's surrendered on his two-seam fastball, a pitch with sink and the one he uses most frequently. Yet he's generating a collective swing-and-miss rate of 7.5 percent, lowest in MLB among current starting pitchers.
The Denver native understands his backyard presents the game's most hitter-friendly conditions, but he tailored his approach to deal with that situation in the Minors.
In college, Freeland sliced through lineups with a fastball-slider combination, but didn't possess elite, mid-to-high-90s velocity when he was drafted. That forced him to alter his approach when pitching in the Arizona Fall League in November 2015. And last year in Double-A and Triple-A, Freeland honed his command low in the zone so it didn't focus on generating swing-and-misses.
"I knew if I was going to try and do that against top prospects and elite hitters, they're just going to foul things off, my pitch count would skyrocket immediately and I wouldn't make it deep in the game," Freeland said. "There was a learning curve to it but still, it's good to preach 'pitch to contact' because if you can do that, you're allowing yourself to get deeper into games and you're allowing yourself to let your defense work and keep them awake."
Coming two outs shy of a no-hitter on July 9 notwithstanding, Freeland has found himself in middle-inning jams that he's been forced to escape. Sunday's scenario came with the bases loaded in the fourth with a three-run lead, when he dropped in a two-seamer middle-away to Jordy Mercer who poked the pitch to Trevor Story to end the inning.
"The big out, the ground ball to short with Mercer with the bases loaded with two outs in the fourth was, should be a typical Kyle Freeland out against a right-handed hitter -- ground ball, heavy action to the left side," said Black.
"We saw that a lot today. Nolan [Arenado] had some action. Trevor had some action. That's a typical Kyle game."
Another crisis averted for a rookie pitching with conviction.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.