'18 Cy contender Freeland optioned to Triple-A

Rockies southpaw plans to make mechanical adjustments to delivery

May 31st, 2019

DENVER -- When Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland returns from being optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, which was announced Friday, will he look just like last year, when he finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting?

Well, he doesn’t care as much about that as he does simply pitching better.

 “I’m not trying to repeat what I did last year,” said Freeland, who is 2-6 with a 7.13 ERA in 12 starts -- with a National League-leading 16 home runs served up. “That’s kinda out the window at this point.

“I’m gonna go down and learn -- learn more about myself, learn more about this game, and come back a better person, better athlete, better pitcher.”

The decision came after Freeland, 26, gave up five runs and seven hits in just three innings in the Rockies’ 11-10, 10-inning victory over the D-backs on Thursday afternoon. Freeland’s short start exhausted the bullpen to the point that the club optioned him and outfielder Yonathan Daza to Albuquerque, and activated Chris Rusin (mid-back strain) from the injured list for the first time this season and recalled righty Jesus Tinoco for his first Major League action.

“Honestly, I thought this was going to happen quite a long time ago,” said Freeland, who is being sent down for the first time since debuting in the 2017 home opener. 

After Thursday’s game, first baseman Daniel Murphy said he would feel comfortable “looking him in the eye and telling him I want him to take the ball every fifth day, because I do.” But he added that any mechanical adjustments are “beyond my scope.”

However, the mechanics fall clearly within the scope of manager Bud Black and the staff, who determined that the adjustments to allow Freeland to have better location down and to the corners, and to get better velocity separation between his changeup and his fastball, are better done away from Major League action.

In retrospect, the issues that led to Friday’s decision were highlighted by MLB.com in a May 8 story. After coming back from a left middle finger blister that cost him a start, Freeland experienced issues with his arm angle.

Not revealed that day was a mechanical adjustment. In consultation with pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes, Freeland attempted to lower his hands slightly at the beginning of his motion. It was one of many adjustments made in an attempt to quicken the pace of his delivery and bring his arm to the proper slot.

Neither Black -- who said he has not come to a decision on who will take Freeland’s turn in the rotation, which comes up Tuesday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs -- nor Freeland revealed the exact adjustments he and the pitching coaches assigned for Albuquerque.

“Collectively, we put our heads together and got through this -- this plan,” Black said. “We feel like it’s going to help Kyle for the short-term and long-term. He will be able to work on some things without working on them in a big league game. It’s time to take a step back and regroup for a period of time, and I have no doubt that he will be back to where he wants to be.”

It’s the second straight season that the Rockies have sent their Opening Day starter to Albuquerque. They sent Jon Gray down last June and he returned to go 5-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 14 starts. Freeland and Gray said that they would talk or text.

“I’m not worried about him at all, I know he’ll be OK,” Gray said. “I just want to make sure he’s not making it a bigger deal than it is. He needs to get back to feeling like himself so he can get back here and help us.

“Just don’t let anger fuel you at all. Just understand what the situation is and see it for what it is. And really attack the problem the way you believe it is, not necessarily hear like the hundred voices you’ve got going on around you.”

Injury updates: 

• Right fielder Charlie Blackmon, who hasn’t played since suffering a right calf injury last Thursday in Pittsburgh and is on the 10-day injured list, participated in batting practice and a number of other exercise activities Friday.

“We've got to get to the point where he feels comfortable ramping up the intensity of running,” Black said. “But he's able to hit, throw and to some extent, run."

• Closer Wade Davis, who last pitched at Boston on May 14 before going to the 10-day injured list with a left oblique stain, on Friday threw his first bullpen session since the injury.