The Rockies' rotation has performed well without Kyle Freeland, and he showed Tuesday night that he has arrived for 2021 ready to meet the standard the other pitchers have set.
After missing the season’s first seven weeks with a left shoulder strain, which looked much worse when he sustained it on March 23, Freeland gave up a first-inning run but no other damage in the Rockies’ 3-1 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. The Rockies' win streak ended at four.
“Overall, I’m pleased with everything, especially with my health,” Freeland said. “That was, I’m sure, the first thing on everyone’s mind today was making sure that I’m healthy and I’m able to do my job without any doubt in my mind. And so nowadays, definitely a big positive for me and for the team and for the coaching staff."
A key member of rotations that led the Rockies to the postseason in 2017 and 2018, Freeland was stingy enough in the runs column to fit in with a starting staff that had compiled a 2.71 ERA over 15 games through Monday night’s eight innings of two-run ball from Austin Gomber. The competitiveness that made Freeland one of the NL’s best pitchers a few years ago showed up in five strikeouts and his ability to perform well with runners on base.
“Watching the starters over the past couple of weeks grind through their starts and doing a good job leaving the team in a good place, keeping runs off the board, they've been doing great,” Freeland said. “So for me to be able to jump right into that mix -- obviously not being able to go deep in the game as some have -- both to keep runs off the board and leave the team with a chance to take a lead or win a ballgame is definitely nice to see for myself. Hopefully we can continue to keep that roll as a starting rotation.”
Mets hitters, figuring correctly that manager Bud Black would keep a close eye on Freeland’s pitch count and base traffic, extracted four hits, three walks and a hit batter. But Freeland accounted for himself with five strikeouts, and prevented big hits before being removed after 74 pitches.
“They had a good plan coming in against me,” Freeland said. “I’m sure they thought I was going to be very changeup-heavy, which I was. I threw some very quality changeups to guys that they ended up spitting on. Usually, I’m getting swings and misses and weak contact off those changeups.”
The difference in the game was Tomás Nido’s two-run homer off Chi Chi González, who was removed from the rotation for Freeland.
Freeland said he stuck with his plan because he didn’t want to play into the Mets’ desire to force him higher in the zone. But he and catcher Dom Nuñez discussed possibly throwing more fastballs -- a pitch Freeland acknowledged needs to be sharper. There will be adjustments, Freeland said, before his next start Sunday at Pittsburgh.
Freeland had help from Nuñez, who threw out two runners attempting to steal. Ryan McMahon’s 13th homer of the season and second in two nights was the Rockies’ only run off Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who went five innings in his first start since returning from the injured list.
But Black knew Freeland was motivated to stay with deGrom, and that gave the Rockies a chance.
“He's gonna compete hard, no matter what's happening in the course of the game,” Black said. “Tonight, his stuff was moving a lot. The ball had great action, and they [the Mets] did a great job of laying off pitches below the zone. But the stuff was good.”