Freeland Returns to AAA Albuquerque, Looking to Regain Successful Touch of 2018

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Kyle Freeland stared out across the playing surface at Coors Field, sitting in the dugout, the media brigade surrounding him.

“It stinks,” he said.

Make the “it” plural.

It, like in Freeland, the Rockies Opening Day starter and fourth-place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting a year ago, being optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday.

It, like in Freeland having only one win to show since his seven-inning, one-run effort at Miami on Opening Day, and having suffered losses in six of his last seven decisions.

It, like in Freeland having already given up 16 home runs, one shy of his total for the entire season.

It, like in Freeland having having seen his changeup -- so vital in getting right-handed hitters off balance and allowing him to run his fastball in on their hands -- clicking the radar guns at 85 to 88 miles per hour, a three-to-four-mile increase in velocity from a year.

“This is a tough one for me,” said manager Bud Black. “I’ve been with Kyle from his first big-league start (in the Rockies home opener two years ago). “We just felt there had to be a rest with Kyle. He’s been going through a tough stretch since Opening Day.

“I felt it was time for him to exhale. It was time to go down and work with the minor-league pitching instructors.”

While Albuquerque pitching coach Brandon Emanuel will be involved with Freeland, the bulk of the focus will be from organizational pitching coordinator Darryl Scott, who splits time between the big-league club and the minor leagues and most recently has focused on the Rockies in general, Freeland in particular.

“Darryl is familiar with what Kyle is capable of doing and what has been happening,” said Black.

So is Freeland, who is taking the return to Albuquerque as a necessity, as unwelcomed as it may be.

“I am not trying to repeat what I did last year,” he said. “I am going down to learn more about myself and the game. When I come back I want to be better, both as a pitcher and a person. I hope pretty soon I will get back, get the ball every fifth day and give the team a chance to win.”

What Freeland did last year was impressive.

He was fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, the second-highest finish for a Rockies pitcher to the third-place effort of Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010. He set a Rockies record with a Coors Field ERA to 2.40, and set a franchise-record with a season ERA of 2.85, edging out Jimenez’s 2.88 in 2010.

None of that, however, mattered in 2019. He won that opener in Miami on March 28, and after losses in his next three starts came back with six shutout innings in a 6-2 win against the Phillies at Coors Field on April 18, allowing two hits and striking out seven without a walk.

After that, though. …

The wins are missing. The changeup isn't what it was.

And the confidence?

“That’s a good question,” he said.

Freeland heads to Albuquerque with the 2-6 record a 7.14 ERA and 16 home runs allowed, just one shy for his entire 2018 season. And is averaging 17.6 pitches per inning.

He knows things have to change, and he is ready for the challenge.

“I definitely want to see positive results,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to be results oriented, but I’d have to lie to say I don’t want to see positive results.”

Oh, he’s team-oriented, that’s never been in question.

The Rockies know that. So do the opposition.

Veteran first baseman Daniel Murphy, a free-agent addition from the Nationals in the off-season, made that clear after Thursday’s game when he said, “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 Murphy, whose 10th-inning single produced the final blow in the walk-off win on Thursday.

Freeland smiled a bit – a little bit – when that was repeated to him on Friday.

“It shows that he and the rest of the team has confidence in me,” said Freeland. “Those are nice words to come out of his mouth.”

Those are words Freeland wants to give Murphy and the rest of his Rockies teammates a reason to continue to utter. And that’s a confidence Freeland knows he needs to rebuild in himself.

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