Rockies play it safe with Freeland, who goes 5 strong

May 4th, 2023

DENVER -- Kyle Freeland was pitching one of his best games of the season, entering the fifth frame with a 4-0 lead over the Brewers when fans and teammates had a case of déjà vu all over again.

A day after Germán Márquez revealed he needed season-ending Tommy John surgery, Freeland winced enough on his first pitch of the fifth to Rowdy Tellez to elicit a visit from manager Bud Black and the Rockies’ trainers.

Freeland wasn’t about to leave. He convinced Black he was fine to keep pitching and proceeded to strike out the side, finishing five shutout innings with only three hits and no walks while striking out five and lowering his ERA to 3.76. Most importantly for a rotation plumbing the organizational depth to field five healthy starters, Freeland stuck around to earn the win in the 7-1 series clincher at Coors Field and set his teammates up for a sweep chance come Thursday’s afternoon finale.

“I felt really good,” Freeland said. “The ball’s coming out really well. I had a slight concern with the neck, but I've always firmly believed if you're not playing a little banged up, you're not playing hard enough. Me and [catcher Elias] Díaz were on the same page all night long, filling up the zone, getting quick outs.”

Black characterized the issue as a “stiff neck,” resulting from Freeland’s workout in the weight room after his last start, and Freeland said that it came from simply turning his head to the left and feeling it lock up.

“We've been working on it over the past four or five days, trying to get it as right as we could,” Freeland said. “I felt it warming up today. Then after sitting in the dugout for a long [four-run] inning with the offense, the first one I let go, it kind of grabbed on me. I was able to get through the inning and wanted to keep going, but with our starting pitching right now stretched so thin, it was kind of the right move not to potentially have another injury.”

Freeland turned the game over to the bullpen after throwing only 62 pitches, but he looked about as good as he has all season.

“Sometimes if you have a body part that's a little bit off, it heightens your awareness and heightens your mechanics,” Black said.

The Denver native reclaimed his form from the season’s start, when Freeland pitched 12 2/3 innings without allowing a run. It was a quick rebound from a 2 2/3-inning start on April 17, when he allowed nine runs (seven earned).

“That's maturity,” Black said. “When you look at Kyle, when you look at Germán [Márquez], you look at [Antonio] Senzatela, these guys are not young pitchers anymore, right? They're veteran pitchers, and I think that just shows the emotional state, the mental state that they're in, their self-confidence in who they are as starting pitchers and their responsibility. It shows up in situations like a rough game, and you can bounce back.”

Freeland needs to call on that maturity now more than ever. He and Márquez have been the big arms at the top of the Rockies’ rotation over the past seven years, and with Senzatela set to make his first start of the season Friday after being out since tearing his left ACL last August, they’re likely to feel the pressure to step up even more so in Márquez’s absence.

“You’ve got to keep reminding yourself, don't put too much pressure on yourself, because that's when things start unfolding, and you end up trying to do too much and start getting aggravated with results and your outings,” Freeland said. “There are nine guys out there for a reason.”

Among the offensive highlights from the other nine was Charlie Blackmon’s Statcast-projected 463-foot homer, leaving his bat with an exit velocity of 107.2 mph to land in the second deck above the bullpen for the third longest of his career.

“He's a pro's pro,” Freeland said of his longtime teammate.

Kris Bryant also homered in the game, helping to spark an offense that is finding its footing over its first three-game win streak of the season.

“We're kind of getting comfortable with the groove of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ve had really good at-bats, good situational hitting, really good defense. These last three games have been great.”