Freeland working to improve results
DENVER -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland has been through at least three different delivery philosophies and one remedial trip to the Minors. But none of that is on the docket right now, with Freeland carrying a 9.58 ERA through five starts after his return from a left shoulder strain.
The biggest coaching point -- more importantly, the key piece of self-coaching Freeland is doing -- centers on success. He has succeeded before.
Freeland shows some emotion during games -- in balance, he expresses joy as well -- and you can tell during postgame Zoom conferences that the postgame cooling-off period is only mildly effective. But a guy who finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 2018, and who led the Majors in double plays induced last season isn’t defined by rough times.
While his 2019 called for the extreme of an option to Triple-A Albuquerque, for much-needed changeup development, the 2021 struggles call for a reminder of who he is.
“You have to be your best critic -- knowing when you were the best, and when you’re the worst, being able to look back and know that you've had consistent success," Freeland said. "That is a good reminder, to let yourself know you can do this, you can you can accomplish things, you can make your adjustments, you can get back to where you want to be.
“It's all a learning process through successes and failures.”
With Freeland, it’s easy to get caught up in mechanics. There was a pause during his stride to the plate, a la the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, for two seasons. He did what manager Bud Black called a “flamingo pause” at the top of his kick in ’18, which ended up being negotiated out of this delivery. Last year he succeeded with a smoother motion. This year, the results are as rough as the delivery is smooth.
If a major adjustment is necessary, he has the right people around. Mark Wiley has been Rockies' director of pitching operations since before Freeland was drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville in 2014. Bullpen coach Darryl Scott worked with him through multiple Minor League stops. Black and Steve Foster are the only manager and pitching coach Freeland has known in the Majors.
Freeland and the mentors agree that the problem isn’t mechanical.
“I mean, ’19 was a tough year,” Black said. “He made a lot of adjustments, with the curveball, with the change.
“We focus a lot on our guys because they’re our guys, but other pitchers struggle, too. We have a lot of belief in him -- recently, just last year. He’s just in a bad spot, not making pitches.”
Freeland rejects the idea that he is tipping pitches with his release point with his various pitches, noting that he has seen it measured and no way a batter can read it that quickly. It’s more sealing the small gaps in the chain that makes the pitch land in a better spot.
What the batter can see is trajectory. If a pitch looks like a ball, he can eliminate it. And if a pitch is spinning in the strike zone, he can crush it. Freeland knows this, too. There are effective pitches that get weak contact, but too many simply aren’t.
“Elusive is a good word for it. … Trying to get that elusive feeling is where I’m at right now,” Freeland said. “I am trusting my pitches as much as I can, but it’s getting to the point of that feeling -- knowing I'm going to stick this pitch where I want it to be, instead of hoping that it doesn't move back into the zone.
“It's just me being consistent on the edges of the zone, and my small misses missing off instead of big misses right in the middle.”
Foster said coaching Freeland at this point of his career is not an exercise in heavy information. During a game, his words are limited to occasional reminder phrases and encouraging words.
“If you've been somewhere in your life, you've had struggle in your life, then you know, the feelings and emotions that come along with struggle,” Foster said. "So this isn't his first rodeo, he had been through struggles with the big leagues. He's also been very successful. And he knows the feelings that come along with both.
“He’s done some incredible things in his big league career to tap into.”