Rockies starter Kyle Freeland could soon be ready for a return to the majors, if he isn’t already, Nick Groke of The Athletic explains (subscription link) in the course of an excellent examination of the demoted southpaw.
There’s still no formal indication whether and when the Colorado organization will elect to call back Freeland. But the club is badly in need of a boost after dropping six-straight contests heading into the All-Star break. And Freeland says he’s ready to roll.
“I feel back to myself,” says Freeland, who was optioned at the end of May after a brutal start to the season. That came on the heels of a stirring 2018 performance in which he landed fourth in the National League’s Cy Young voting. While there was cause to anticipate some regression, it seemed at the time that the Denver native was destined to be a rotation stalwart for years to come.
After allowing more than seven earned runs per nine innings in a dozen MLB starts, Freeland has coughed up almost a run per frame in his half-dozen outings at Triple-A. With 28 strikeouts against 16 walks, he’s not exactly posting dominant K/BB numbers against second-level competition.
But those numbers only tell part of the tale, Groke writes. When Freeland was demoted, the prevailing sense was that he was in good shape physically and mechanically. The issue, rather, was that he had become predictable to big-league hitters. The Rox initially told Freeland to rely exclusively on his fastball and change. He wasn’t working on big fixes; as he puts it, “it was just getting back to being myself.”
That’s approximately the same characterization that skipper Bud Black puts on the situation. He expressed confidence, saying he anticipates Freeland will “exhibit confidence in his pitch mix” and “be more dimensional.” It’s all but impossible to really say what that will look like on the mound. As Groke explains, though, that’s due to Freeland’s nature as a pitcher who succeeds by mixing, matching, and adapting constantly with his expansive repertoire.
While Freeland may feel himself, it remains to be seen whether he can again pitch anything like the version of himself that was capable of a full season of sub-3.00 ERA ball at Coors Field. He was bombed in his last Triple-A outing of the month of June, coughing up nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, but then bounced back with a sterling outing just before the break (9 strikeouts, 2 walks, four hits, 1 earned run in 7 innings).
There’s loads of uncertainty, but the Rockies have little choice but to give Freeland another shot — likely in the relatively near future. Groke says the club is inclined to call up Chi Chi Gonzalez for an upcoming doubleheader spot start, but anticipates a need for a fifth starter later this month. That’s only part of the picture, though, as the club’s current four-man rotation mix is not without broader issues. German Marquez and Jon Gray have been sturdy; otherwise, the Colorado club has received shaky output. Antonio Senzatela (who has been destroyed by lefty hitters) and newcomer Peter Lambert (nine home runs allowed in 29 2/3 innings) haven’t thrived any more than did Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Anderson, and Chad Bettis. If the Rox are to hand in the Wild Card race, they’ll need to get more consistency from their starting staff.