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Kyle Freeland is emerging as the leader of the Rockies pitching staff

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The Colorado kid has become one of the faces of the franchise.

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We here at Purple Row have been serious Kyle Freeland Guys (Gals, and However You Identify) from the beginning. Connor Farrell explains why:

Freeland’s starts have been everywhere; this hasn’t been a lucky stretch where he’s avoided Coors Field for two months. He shut out the Brewers at home, he beat the Giants at home, he locked down the Reds and Rangers in their gimmick ballparks. Kyle Freeland is the Alabama University football team of pitchers—he’s going to any stadium you want and he’s going to beat you. That’s what he does. Just get used to it.

Since Connor wrote this, Freeland has also held his own against James Paxton and Sean Manaea. As July comes to a close, Freeland has gone 9-6 with an ERA of 3.13 in 126 innings. He’s also racked up 100 strikeouts with a WHIP of 1.23.

His Rockies teammates are Kyle Freeland Guys, too. Nolan Arenado has joined the club, saying: “I’m a huge Kyle Freeland guy. . . . Big time!” Carlos Gonzalez is also in: “He’s so gifted. . . . He’s probably the toughest guy in the clubhouse, close to Chad Bettis.”

When Dakota Gardner and Gemma Kaneko asked Freeland what it means to be a “Kyle Freeland Guy,” he said,

To me, it’s pretty cool. It’s a way for fans to connect with me and back me and help get my name out there and encourage myself and the Rockies. But I was asked this question yesterday, and I have no idea what a Kyle Freeland Guy is.

Everything about this answer is perfect: Freeland embraces the title before confessing that he really doesn’t get it — and he’s completely fine with it. (Listen to the linked audioclip for the full effect.) Like the best pitchers, Freeland has learned to adapt to the situation.

Certainly, Freeland’s celebrity is in large part due to his improvement as a second-year MLB pitcher, which Nick Groke outlines here, but note this observation:

Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes, who soon after that game wrote a mid-season report on Freeland, said, “The maturity level has been unbelievable since the end of last year, especially in the last two months. He sticks to his plan. He sticks to his strength. He is such a grinder, such a competitor, I think at times he wills good outings.”

This new “maturity level” is reflected in Freeland’s emergence as a leader of the starting pitching staff. This is a young and very talented staff, with the senior member being Chad Bettis who was out most of last season undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. During that time, the pitching staff had to find its own way, and during its second season, Freeland has stepped into the spotlight. Purple Row’s Samantha Bradfield recently asked Freeland to describe his leadership role on this team:

“Right now, I’m in the learning process of it. I’m leaning on some older guys, especially Ian [Desmond] as someone who can help teach me that. It’s hard to be a young guy and be a leader, but it’s something that I want to add to my résumè and be able to be as not only part of our pitching staff, but as a team, so I’m in the learning process, and I’m learning quickly about it.

I believe as a starting five pitching staff that everyone carries one another. I’m definitely trying to work my way into a position where I’m looked up to and I lead by example and then vocally at times when it’s needed, but again, I’m second youngest guy in this starting staff, so I’m not trying to step on any toes or anything like that. So I’m definitely still learning my role and everything, but definitely want to work my way into one of those leadership roles.”

There are several interesting points here. First, in addition to improving as a pitcher, Freeland is working to become a team leader, and he’s aware of the balance required of him as a young player.

Second, his reference to seeing Ian Desmond as a role model is striking given that while he struggled early in the 2018 season, Desmond was often credited by the team (and ridiculed by some fans) for being a “clubhouse guy.” Freeland’s words illustrate why that role is important.

Third, consider this comment: “I lead by example and then vocally at times when it’s needed.” Freeland stands out not only because of his pitching but also because of his presence in the dugout after he’s finished. Freeland may not be physically in the game, but he is emotionally still on the field. In his enthusiasm, Freeland has become highly meme-able. Here’s a good case in point:

He loves this team, he loves what he’s doing, and he loves this place — he loves it enough that the Front Range and the 303 area code are inked on his right arm.

Then again, Coors has always been is home ballpark. As he told Paul Klee:

“I’ve kind of dreamed of this since Day 1, since they drafted me. . . . What a rare opportunity I have to be a Rockies first-round pick and debut for a team I grew up watching as a kid. I want to make the best of every opportunity. There’s no place I’d rather do it than here.”

For Freeland, Coors isn’t a pitching dungeon; it’s home. He’s confident, and that confidence has emerged not only in the field but also in the clubhouse. That Kyle Freeland would become a leader of the starting pitching rotation seems like an organic evolution of his growth as a Rockie.

Fourth, in saying, “I believe as a starting five pitching staff that everyone carries one another,” Freeland has embraced Bud Black’s philosophy often referred to as “pitching momentum”: “You’ve got to keep pushing through it,” Black said. “There’s a lot of work done on a number of levels — pitching mechanics, game strategy, really bearing down on scouting reports and trying to pitch to them — but more than anything, there’s a collective momentum that has to occur where one guy gets going, and then the next guy.”

Kyle Freeland has been essential to the Rockies gaining that momentum — and it’s why so many of us are Kyle Freeland Guys.

On Monday, Mike Petriello tweeted this:

I’m not sure why, Mike. In July, the Rockies’ ERA at Coors Field was an impressive 1.71, a franchise record. (The next best was 2.80 in May 2006.) Kyle Freeland was a key part of the pitching rotation. It’s why we’re with Kyle Freeland — and we’re sorry for anyone who isn’t.