Every pitcher starts the season with a 0.00 ERA.
Through Thursday, only 13 starting pitchers in Major League Baseball still have it. Kyle Freeland is one of them.
Through two starts, Freeland has thrown 12 2/3 scoreless innings. If you add 2 2/3 scoreless innings at the end of his final start in 2022 against the Dodgers in L.A., Freeland has actually pitched 15 1/3 scoreless innings.
Of the 13 starting pitchers who have yet to surrender a run in 2023, only five of them have two starts. Only one of them is 2-0. Any guesses who it is?
The same guy who made his third home-opening start on Thursday. The same guy whose intensity, competitiveness, and talent earned him a spot on Team U.S.A. in the World Baseball Classic.
Despite being on a lower pitch count allowance because playing in the WBC slowed the usual ramp-up he would have in Spring Training, Freeland has been able to record two quality starts. He needed only 74 pitches in six innings against the Padres in his first start and just 86 pitches in 6 2/3 innings against the Nationals on Thursday.
Of course, it’s only two games. It’s too early to draw conclusions. But there’s something special in Freeland’s game right now. In his six seasons leading up to 2023, Freeland has struck out an average of 17.8% of batters he’s faced. In his stellar 2018 season when he posted a 2.85 ERA, he struck out 20.5%.
This year, Freeland has six strikeouts, which equates to 4.8% of hitters he’s seen. Five of those came on Thursday against a swing-happy Nationals squad. Freeland’s single-season high for ground ball rate is 26.9% and it came last season. This year, with the admittedly small sample size, his ground ball rate is 36.8%.
In four of Freeland’s six seasons (2022, ‘21, ‘19, and ‘18), the 4-seam fastball has been the pitch he’s thrown the most. It was around 40% in 2018 and 2019, and it has been decreasing since. The sinker was his top pitch at 36.6% in 2017 and now the sinker is a close runner-up (35.1%) to the top-pitched sinker (36.5%).
All pitchers must adapt and change to survive in MLB. As arms change and hitters learn, the pitcher who’s able to keep opponents off balance is the one who can build a long career.
Freeland is in his seventh career and will turn 30 in May. After Thursday’s win, which was only the 12th 1-0 victory in Denver in Rockies history (11 at Coors Field and one at Mile High Stadium), Rockies manager Bud Black spoke to Freeland’s ability to do just that.
“Kyle’s developed now into a different pitcher than he was in years ’17, ’18, ’19. He’s evolved,” Black said. “You are seeing location of the fastball. You’re seeing more use of the curveball, which wasn’t in his game early in his career. Better use of the changeup. More effective change. The cutter, slider to both sides of the plate. He’s pitching right now. He truly is and he’s making pitches.”
In December, Purple Row’s Mario DeGenz wrote about Freeland’s impressive curveball development and how it really is the way Freeland can strike players out. Freeland upped his curveball from 14% against the Padres to 21% against the Nationals and it paid off. All five of his strikeouts on Thursday, came on the curveball: Joey Meneses (twice, swinging and looking) Alex Call and CJ Abrams (swinging), and Victor Robles (looking).
When asked in the post-game press conference about his offseason preparations and how he’s doing so well thus far this year, Freeland noted adding depth to his slider to basically have two versions of the pitch. But first, he said, “Just consistently tinkering with my arsenal.”
Freeland, backed by a solid bullpen of Justin Lawrence and Pierce Johnson, treated fans to a shutout at Coors Field on Thursday. It’s a rare feat, but also more evidence that Freeland loves to pitch in big moments in front of a full house.
“Pitching in front of my state and representing it and hopefully get a win out of it, it means the world to me to be able to do that,” Freeland said. “Hopefully, I can continue to do that over the rest of my career here.”
As long as Freeland keeps “tinkering” his arsenal, and combined with his competitive fight, Freeland could be in a good position for a solid season and beyond.
★ ★ ★
While Randal Grichuk and Daniel Bard don’t have return dates yet, both are getting closer to joining the Rockies. Grichuk, who had bilateral sports hernia surgery in February, is hitting and fielding, but rainy weather has delayed his ability to practice full-pace running and bursting out of the batter’s box. Bard, who was placed on the IL with anxiety on Opening Day, threw in Los Angeles and upped his velocity to the mid-90s. He’s planning to meet with the front office soon to make a plan on how best to proceed as he builds back to the high-90s.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Thanks to a homer and RBI double by Nolan Jones, as well as an RBI double from Aaron Schunk, the Isotopes worked to a 5-4 lead after seven innings. It turned out not to be enough as Fernando Abad gave up the eventual game-winning two-run homer to Kevin Padlo in the eighth. Jimmy Herron tripled and scored two runs for Albuquerque, Brenton Doyle added a hit and a run, and Grayson Greiner chipped in an RBI single. Karl Kauffmann got a no-decision, giving up four runs on eight hits with four strikeouts in five innings.
The season opener didn’t go so great for the Yard Goats at Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Thursday. Hartford was held to five hits: two from Hunter Goodman and one each from Zach Veen, Julio Carreras, and Colin Simpson. Case Williams made the start for the Yard Goats, only giving up two hits, including one homer, for one run with five strikeouts in five innings. Hartford was only trailing 1-0 when Case left the game for Jared Biddy, who gave up six runs in the frame on four singles, one double, one hit-by-pitch, one stolen base, and one wild pitch.
The Grizzlies opened up the 2023 season with a bang as Parker Kelly hit a two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning for the eventual game-winner. Fresno trailed the Grizzlies 3-1 entering the ninth inning, but that’s when Kody Huff hit an RBI double and came around to score on a wild pitch to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Huff, EJ Andrews Jr., and Robby Martin Jr., all posted two-hit games for Fresno, while Gabriel Rodriquez pitched a scoreless ninth for the win and Zach Agnos threw a scoreless 10th for the save.
★ ★ ★
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