Freeland pounds strike zone in first start in GJ
Kyle Freeland had 35 pitches or two innings, whichever came first.
He didn’t even get halfway through his pitch count, and that’s a good thing.
The Colorado Rockies’ first-round draft pick needed only 17 pitches to complete his professional debut Wednesday night, and all but two were strikes.
“Everything was working once I did my (bullpen) pregame. I felt good about everything,” said Freeland, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Arvada before pitching three years at the University of Evansville (Indiana).
“I just knew I needed to go out there and fill up the zone, and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Fill up the zone, throw strikes, and you get batters out that way. It’s a lot easier when you do that.”
Freeland’s impressive pitching performance was backed up by effective relief pitching and some big hits in the Grand Junction Rockies’ 12-2 shellacking of Missoula at Suplizio Field.
With the weather heating up in the Grand Valley, the ball is starting to fly, and the Rockies took advantage, hitting three home runs and scoring all 12 runs in the first three innings.
Freeland wasn’t a bit nervous — at least that’s how it looked — needing only six pitches to get out of the first inning. All six were strikes. He struck out the first batter he faced, then gave up an infield single but quickly got a ground-ball double play and was back in the dugout before some of the fans had even settled into their seats.
“He attacked the strike zone and looked comfortable,” Rockies manager Anthony Sanders said. “He looked like he belonged out there. It didn’t even look like he broke a sweat out there.”
The 6-foot-4 left-hander gave up back-to-back base hits to lead off the second inning.
Kevin Cron singled up the middle on a 2-2 count, the only two balls Freeland threw, but with runners at first and second, a 96 mph fastball got Dane McFarland swinging before Tyler Clark lifted a fly ball deep to center.
Omar Carrizales tracked it down and threw to third as Cron slid into the bag. The ball took a hop behind the bag, but Luis Castro quickly snatched it up and threw out Trevor Mitsui trying to advance to second.
Just like that, Freeland’s night was done, 15 strikes in 17 pitches.
“I didn’t try to talk them into (another inning),” he said with a grin. “It’s their call, and I’m not going to question them on it. They’re looking out for the best. When I got done with that second (inning), I just felt like I was getting in my groove, but they said, ‘We’re done after two. You threw 17 pitches, your two innings are up, we’ll just prepare for the next start.’ “
And he can’t wait for that next start, when he’ll likely get three innings, depending on his pitch count.
“I’m ready to keep rolling,” he said.
He tried to relax before heading to the ballpark, staying in his normal routine.
“No reason to get overworked about it or think about it too much,” he said. “That’ll just start you off in a hole right away. I just tried to stay relaxed all day and roll into the game.”
Apparently so did his teammates, who jumped on every pitch around the strike zone against Missoula starter Brad Keller. Hamlet Marte banged an RBI triple off the right-field wall in the first inning and scored on a wild pitch. In the second, Kevin Padlo hit his first professional home run to right, a two-run shot.
“It’s a good hitting team we’ve got here,” Padlo said. “I didn’t know I had it off the bat, and I saw it sail over the fence, so that’s a good thing.”
Castro came up with the bases loaded in the third inning after Nate Causey singled and Marte and Randy Reyes walked against Keller. He crushed an offering halfway up the bleachers in left field.
“It felt great, the first grand slam in his career,” Castro said through Tony Diaz. “The fact that he was able to put the icing on the cake in that inning and helped the team out was even better.”
Castro went 3 for 5 with four RBI and scored twice for the Rockies (13-10), who won their third straight game. He also played stellar defense at third, including charging and barehanding a ball in the seventh inning and throwing the runner out at first, grinning all the way to the dugout.
“He does have a lot of fun playing defense, and he realizes that when he’s having fun things usually work his way,” Diaz said, interpreting for Castro. “He had a lot of fun.”
The bullpen, too, had fun, with James Lomangino throwing three perfect innings, striking out one, for his first win. Rafael Betancourt allowed one run on two hits in the sixth inning as Colorado’s former closer continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Garrett Schlecht and Logan Norris each threw a scoreless inning, and Alec Kenilvort gave up one run on two hits in the ninth.
After Castro’s grand slam, the Rockies scored four more runs in the third off reliever Kevin Simmons on a couple of errors and four more hits, including a home run to right by Nate Causey.
“Hats off to (hitting coach) Lee Stevens working with these guys,” Sanders said. “A lot of behind the scenes, stuff people don’t see with these kids out here at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Just work in progress, but it was a good day to be rewarded today.
“A lot of big at-bats tonight. Padlo with his first home run. Just seeing these kids’ expressions is really good.”
Pitcher Fabian Bohorquez, who was signed as a free agent during the offseason, was activated from the disabled list last week and released by the Rockies. Bohorquez, who played in the Arizona Rookie League for Cincinnati last season, did not appear in a game with the Rockies. He is the cousin of Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
■ The Osprey players met and signed baseballs for members of their Challenger Baseball counterparts before the game. Each of the eight teams in Grand Junction’s league for special-needs players adopted one of the Pioneer League teams as their mascot this season.