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Rockies’ Kyle Freeland masterful in big league debut

Freeland overcame adversity early and wowed the raucous hometown crowd often.

DENVER — Major league debut in front of more than 49,000 hometown fans on Opening Day. One of the better teams in the National League occupying the opposing dugout. A laughably miniscule and inconsistent strike zone. An offense that couldn’t buy a hit.

All of these factors worked against Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Kyle Freeland on Friday afternoon at Coors Field.

And yet, he thrived.

The 23-year-old rookie tossed six innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits while striking out six batters in his first big league start. The end result was a 2-1 Rockies win.

Freeland battled nerves and questionable umpiring—”There was a little frustration,” the pitcher said—in a 25-pitch first inning that ended with Yasmani Grandal’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice. The early escaping of a jam helped fuel the left-hander for the remainder of his start.

“It was a good test to see where I’m at,” Freeland said after the game. “It happened to [Antonio] Senzatela yesterday in Milwaukee and he did the same thing: stayed focused and got a ground ball.”

“After that, I was able to settle in and find my groove.”

Freeland didn’t walk a batter for the rest of the game and at one point—during the second and third innings—struck out four consecutive Dodgers. The sellout crowd was sent into a frenzy while watching the Denver native mow down L.A. hitters, and Freeland fed off of it.

“It was awesome,” Freeland said with an ear-to-ear grin. “Every once in a while, I really felt [the energy] from them. And you can almost feel the sound bouncing off of your body.”

Still, after four and a half innings, the Rockies were locked in a 1-1 tie with the Dodgers and had only three hits themselves — all of which came in a second inning that was partially spoiled by the same type of overaggressive baserunning that has plagued the team in almost every game so far in 2017. Enter Dustin Garneau.

The backup catcher, who went 2-for-2 with a walk in the series finale against the Brewers, launched a Hyun-jin Ryu offering deep into left field and off of the foul pole to put the Rockies ahead.

“‘G’ was great,” Freeland said of Garneau. “He helped me stay calm on the mound and keep my focus and poise out there. His bat has been hot the past couple of days and that home run was a big deciding factor in this game.”

Freeland followed Garneau’s homer with his first career hit, a sharp ground-ball single to right field. He then shut down the Dodgers in the sixth inning, passing it off to the bullpen to close the door on his first career victory.

First start. First hit. First win. All in front of the people who saw him first. It was a good first day of the 2017 home slate for Freeland and the Rockies. After the game, Colorado’s skipper provided a fitting summary for the day.

“What an outing for Kyle,” Bud Black said. “I think the people of Denver should be very proud of their native son.”