Arenado's milestone can't bail out Freeland

Rockies 3B hits 200th HR, but lefty starter allows 7 runs in 4 IP

May 26th, 2019

DENVER -- A year later, can’t stop a negative spin.

After going 1 2/3 innings in his previous start, Freeland wasn’t much better Saturday night. He gave up seven runs and a season-high 10 hits in just four innings as the Rockies fell to the Orioles, 9-6, at Coors Field.

Last season, Freeland (2-6) emerged as the one to stop these skids. Last June, when the Rockies went 11-16 and had a 5.37 ERA for their starting pitchers, Freeland was 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA. By season’s end, Freeland led the Rockies into the postseason and even threw 6 2/3 innings in the National League Wild Card Game, an eventual win over the Cubs.

But Saturday was the third time this season Freeland gave up seven or more runs, after not having done that in his first two Major League seasons.

“My pitches feel fine,” Freeland said. “It’s the location of those pitches. I’m missing over the heart of the plate, not taking advantage of advantage counts, getting behind guys, walking guys [just one Saturday].”

These struggles take him back to a rough time.

“In the Minor Leagues, 2016,” Freeland said. “At that time, I was a year removed from surgery [to remove bone chips from his left shoulder], so I was still trying to figure out how to pitch again. It was a stretch where I had to figure things out against top prospects from Double-A and Triple-A. I just had to keep working.”

The Rockies (23-27), who have hit well enough to stay in games, but haven’t pitched well enough to win them consistently, needed Freeland to find the groove Saturday. They were five games into a run of 13 games without a day off. And the last two starts were a 3 1/3-inning, eight-run dud from Antonio Senzatela in Pittsburgh on Thursday, and a rocky five innings from Jeff Hoffman that the Rockies’ bats overcame to win Friday night in wakoff fashion, 8-6.

But Freeland gave up two two-out runs in the first inning, a Renato Nunez homer in the third, and a three-run Jonathan Villar shot -- on a 3-2 breaking ball -- during a four-run fourth. The Villar homer was especially damaging, because had given the Rockies a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third with a three-run shot -- his 200th career homer, and 14th of the season.

“He’s just not making the critical pitch at critical times, and that’s what it boils down to … but as far as anything drastic that has to be done, no,” manager Bud Black said of Freeland. “Is there anything that’s magical? No. Over the long haul, we’ll see how all this plays out.

“It is difficult right now, absolutely. But Kyle will come out of it. This is a tough stretch.”

All of the runs off Freeland came with two out. Especially bothersome were the Nunez homer and the four-run fourth. Freeland forced double-play grounders, only to find frustration.

Catcher Chris Iannetta, who was behind the plate throughout Freeland’s strong 2018, held onto the memory of the good pitches for Freeland and will accentuate those as they prepare for his next start.

“The strikeout to [Trey] Mancini, some of the swings and misses to get ahead, those fastballs that were getting in on guys for the double play, that’s Kyle and that’s what he does,” Iannetta said.

The obvious difference is fastballs and sliders that got to the corners or off the plate last year are staying on the plate, and hitters aren’t missing them. Iannetta, who even during Freeland’s good starts uses visual cues to keep his mechanics on track, said he noticed some falling off to the third-base side that could be costing location.

“You can’t just flip a switch in this game,” said Iannetta, whose opposite-way homer to right in the sixth, off former Rockies reliever Miguel Castro, cut the deficit to 7-6. “If we could, it would be a lot easier. It takes time.”

Three things to remember

Bettis’ quiet production: The Rockies stayed close, mainly because of ’ two scoreless innings with four strikeouts -- his third straight scoreless appearance of more than an inning, all to replace an ineffective starter.

“Overall, he’s throwing strikes, he’s keeping the ball down, he’s mixing pitches, the changeup has been good, velocity is up,” Black said.

But Freeland’s start and Bettis doing well to cover two innings, having thrown twice in three games, left too much to a bullpen that has been used heavily. And it became a problem...

Oh still off: Struggling righty , forced into a close because of heavy recent bullpen usage, gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in the seventh. The walk opened the inning. Oh at least managed a strikeout before giving way to Jake McGee.

Oh had been working outside of game action for six days.

“He stuff was fine, but it just wasn’t his night,” said Black, who acknowledged that the Rockies will deal with bullpen fatigue unless starters improve.

Story to the rescue: Had the Rockies mounted a comeback, two plays with the bases loaded in the seventh by would have been key.

Story fielded a Richie Martin grounder and cut down Nunez at the plate. Story also dove for Dwight Smith Jr.’s RBI single into short center, and fired to the plate. Iannetta then threw to third to retire Stevie Wilkerson, who had rounded the bag hoping to score on the hit. The play held the score at 9-6.

“Saving runs at any point in the game, no matter what the score is, is crucial,” Story said. “We always feel we can climb back into the game.”