Freeland to make second Opening Day start for Rox

Tovar wins Abby Greer Award, symbolic of the club’s Spring Training MVP

April 2nd, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Kyle Freeland will get back to where he started, against whom he started and -- the Rockies hope -- how he started.

Freeland will start the 2022 season opener against the Dodgers at Coors Field on Friday at 2 p.m. MT. In his final Cactus League tuneup on Friday night, Freeland held the Mariners to one unearned run and three hits, with two strikeouts and no walks in 5 1/3 innings of a 2-1 Rockies victory.

“I was pretty shocked -- I didn't expect to get that news when Buddy [Black, Rockies manager] told me, but I'm happy,” Freeland said. “That will be my second Opening Day start. I'm excited to take it on and get the season rolling.”

In 2017, Freeland, a Denver native who prepped at Thomas Jefferson High School, held the Dodgers to one run and four hits, and struck out six, in six innings of a 2-1 victory. It was not only the home opener, but his Major League debut.

If Freeland and the Rockies have their way, the only difference between ’17 and Friday will be the jersey number. Freeland, who turns 29 on May 14, wore 31 then, before switching to his preferred 21 the next season.

“I believe I kept that jersey,” Freeland said. “I had always been 21, and had the ability to switch back once we didn’t re-sign [catcher] Jonathan Lucroy. I asked if I could snag it.”

Freeland has one season-opener on his resume -- a 6-3 win at Miami on May 28, 2019, when he gave up just two hits and struck out five in seven frames.

“I love the fact that Kyle is taking the ball for his hometown team,” Black said. “It’s awesome. He pitched great tonight. He’s ready.”

The news from his efficient outing (53 pitches, 37 strikes) was that Freeland abandoned the forkball-like changeup grip for his circle change-ish grip. The three hits were all on changeups, but Freeland said it was because he didn’t quite execute it properly.

His entire mix, though, worked Friday. A guy who wears out the infield grass with batted balls when at his best, Freeland forced eight groundouts and one double play.

“As you have seen over my career, I’m not going to be someone who’s going to blow people away with stuff and fastballs that are 95-plus [mph],” Freeland said. “I’m one of those guys that has to be crafty, working the bottom of the zone and being creative when I’m on the mound, get that weak contact.”

Tovar wins award

Shortstop Ezequiel Tovar is leaving Rockies camp with the Abby Greer Award, symbolic of the team’s Spring Training MVP.

But he left the Rockies with something more lasting -- a strong impression.

Tovar, 20, the Rockies’ No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, showed impact defense and slashed .287/.322/.475 at Single-A and High-A last season. The Rockies played him in instructional ball and sent him to the Arizona Fall League to challenge him against stronger pitching.

Feeling he needed to be stronger, he showed up seven pounds more muscular, with the same movement. The difference showed offensively. Going into Friday night’s game, Tovar was hitting .550 (11-for-20) with three home runs, a 1.650 OPS and two steals.

The Rockies have Tovar, who is on the 40-man Major League roster for the first time, ticketed for Double-A Hartford.

Eyes near and far will be on Tovar.

“He’s shown very well -- his total game and his poise,” Black said. “He’s very comfortable and confident for such a young player. It’s Spring Training, and there’s not the expectation of the regular season, but he’s done very well.”

Gomber gets work

Lefty Austin Gomber pitched in a Double-A game against the Angels on Thursday, although the opponent had Major Leaguers Anthony Rendon and Kurt Suzuki face him four times apiece. Gomber gave up one run on a home run to one of the Double-A players, and struck out four against three hits and two walks in four innings. Gomber threw 69 pitches.

“I think I’m making progress to tighten my slider -- definitely noticed it was a little better yesterday, and was better in my bullpen last time,” Gomber said.

Gomber and Chad Kuhl, who pitched against the Giants on Tuesday, each will have one more spring start. With the two of them stacked, one could potentially face the Guardians in the Cactus League finale and the other could throw on a back field either Tuesday or Wednesday.