Kyle Freeland savored the Rockies 11-10, 10-inning victory against the Diamondbacks at Coors Field on Thursday afternoon. Far from any feeling of satisfcation, however, the fact the Rockies won was a salvation for him.
It provided a personal relief because as much as he struggled in a start cut short after three innings, his team, the Rockies, the one that was born at Mile High Stadium back in 1993 a five weeks before Freeland, himself, was born in a hospital just a couple miles down the road, rallied to win.
In the big picture, what matters is for the team to win, no matter how it happens or who has to step up.
But in Freeland's own world, that does not overshadow the disappointment he feels after finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last year. So far, this year, he's been more an observer than a key factor in the Rockies recent rise back into the early-season midst of the post-season hunt.
With Thursday’s victory, the Rockies are not only just 1 ½ games back of the Brewers for the No. 2 spot in the NL Wild-Card standings, and just a half game behind the Padres.
Freeland is 2-6 in 12 starts, just one win since the Opening Day 6-3 victory at Miami, in which Freeland allowed one run in seven innings. The Rockies have won three of his four no-decisions, but Freeland knows he has not done his part in the team’s battle to claim a post-season berth for the third consecutive season.
“The results are not there,” said Freeland in the aftermath of his three-inning, five run, seven hit, two home runs allowed performance against the D-backs. “The frustration is high, no doubt.”
He hasn't won games, but he maintains the confidence of his teammaters.
“The thing I feel comfortable with is looking him in the eye and telling him I want him to have the ball every fifth (game),” said Daniel Murphy, whose 10th-inning single produced the final blow in the walk-off win on Thursday.
A good teammate becomes great by standing by a struggling teammate. But there is also a realistic approach that things have to get better.
The feeling is what's undermining his success is a minor issue, but with a major impact.There's still the necessary velocity, but Freeland, a pitcher whose success is built off his ability to pitch on the inner-third or outer-third of the plate, not down the middle, is throwing too many pitches down the middle. And hitters are making him pay a price.
“We have to do some things with Kyle, I think, to get him back on track," said manager Bud Black. "It’s too early to say what those (things) are. But there’s a need for some adjustments … We’re going talk to Kyle and we’re going to figure this out.”
Here's the thing about Black. He knows what angst that Freeland is feeling.
Been there, done that.
Black was a critical part of the Royals AL West champion rotation in 1984, going 17-12 with a 3.12 ERA. In 1985, however, when the Royals went on to win the World Series, Black struggled early and then went flat. From May 31 through mid-June he was not only 0-7 with a 6.39 ERA, but the Royals lost all eight of his starts.
And how did the late Dick Howser, who managed the Royals handle it?
"He handed me the ball each time," said Black.
And so far, that's how Black has dealt with Freeland, knowing what the potential is in light of Freeland's performance a year ago.
"Is it velocity?" asked Black. "It is pitch selection? Is it location?"
He already has allowed 16 home runs in 59 innings this season. He gave up only 17 in 202 1/3 innings last year.
To Freeland's credit, he is dealing with reality, not trying to find excuses for his struggles.
“I’m doing everything I can to get back to being me and the pitcher that I know I can be," said Freeland. "I don’t think frustration is getting in the way. I mean, it definitely builds on you. Time and time again, when you go out to the mound and you’re not getting what you want, it (stinks).”
The only saving grace is of late, the Rockies have found their way to survive.