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Kyle Freeland opens his season by taming Rangers

Left-hander wins first road game since March of 2019
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Posted at 4:13 PM, Jul 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 23:38:23-04

DENVER -- Kyle Freeland experienced the type of season you would not wish on your worst enemy.

After posting arguably the best year in Rockies' history in 2018, including an etched-in-brain wild card performance against the Chicago Cubs, the left-hander found himself in the minors a year later. It was a six-month cringe, made worse by Freeland's status as a hometown kid from Thomas Jefferson High School.

"It was really tough," Freeland said.

His career at a crossroads, Freeland rolled up his sleeves. He cleared his head, got healthy -- he had a blood blister on his finger that created issues -- and overhauled his mechanics and sequences. That flamingo pause? Gone. Pitches sitting between 83 miles per hour and 92? Over.

Freeland mixed in a 94-mph fastball with a sneaky changeup and a 80-mph curveball, muzzling the Rangers in a 3-2 victory on Sunday.

The Rockies secured the first series of the season, and Freeland won on the road for the first time since March 28, 2019, a streak spanning 11 starts.

"I thought it was pretty much our expectation. We talked about his uptempo and momentum-building delivery. You saw life to the fastball, the slower breaking ball and close to 20 changeups in 80 pitches," manager Bud Black said. "He pitched. I told him after the game that I am extremely proud. He is using pitches and using all four."

The line told the story, but the significance required a deeper dig. Freeland worked six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with five strikeouts. More impressive, he logged 51 strikes in 80 pitches.

As promised, he channeled his emotions and pitched with an edge. He flirted with trouble in the third after a bloop hit and a wrong read on a bunt by Daniel Murphy put two runners aboard. Freeland reset, inducing a double play and a popup to extinguish the threat.

"Last year, I was in a tougher spot. This is a new year, a clean slate. Last year is over," said Freeland, who worked on creating variance of velocity and using more pitches during the four-month shutdown. "I was able to bear down and execute."

With the Rockies trailing 2-0, Trevor Story blistered a two-run home run, the first by the Rockies this season. He followed with another blast in the sixth as Colorado created breathing room for a bullpen that went through a makeover worthy of "Property Brothers."

Sunday, Yency Almonte posted two scoreless innings, showing velocity and a curveball that was rarely present last season. He passed the baton to Wade Davis, who wobbled Saturday, but provided no drama in the finale for his second save.

It represented Colorado's first road series win since last June. For the Rockies to contend, they need Freeland to regain his form.

"You can kind of tell he has that bulldog-type mentality back," Story said. "I am proud of him. He’s a special guy. He works really hard. He has that in him to be a top pitcher. Everyone can kind of relate. We have all had our ups and downs in this game. It was great to see all of his work pay off."

It's not an overstatement to suggest the team's record will mirror the left-hander's. Last year, Freeland went 3-11 as the Rockies spiraled from 91 to 71 wins.

"I was so focused on being in the zone and being so fine with two pitches. Now I am more focused on using my whole arsenal," Freeland said. "I have been anxious since spring training one shut down. I can build off this. My confidence is growing. Sixty games is still quite a chunk of games. I still have a quite a few starts to go, but this is a good first step for me."