Kyle Freeland stars in unforgettable debut for Rockies

DENVER -- Up with Purple. 

The Kid came full circle in front of 49,165 of his closest friends in the Rockies' 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Given the time, the place, the setting, Kyle Freeland delivered one of the most memorable home-opening performances in Rockies' history. Freeland made his big league debut at Coors Field, where he once walked the concourse bedazzled by the work of Larry Walker and Jeff Francis. A former prep star at Thomas Jefferson High School, Freeland became the first starter to pull the curtain on his career as a native son in his home stadium since Chuck Dobson with the Kansas City's Athletics in 1966. 

The Freeland family, seated in section 129, Row 36, will be talking about Friday for decades. It provided a bookend to draft day three years ago. When the Rockies selected Freeland as the eighth overall pick out of Evansville, the moment provided goosebumps. The son was crying. He buried himself into his father's chest, who hugged him tightly.

His dad Don still works at Home Depot, logging his regular shifts. Mom Susan punches the clock at Holm Elementary. Safe to say, they might be more popular with their co-workers in the break room this week. 

Pitching against big league hitters can strum the nerves. Pitching against big league hitters before a soldout stadium can make breathing difficult. However, Freeland never looked overwhelmed. OK, he threw a first pitch ball. Then little went wrong after that. He struck out Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe on five pitches.

"I know Kyle wasn't calm but he looked calm,” manager Bud Black said after the game. “All in all, really good work. He pitched well. I am proud of him. He handled all of this so well."

Freeland, 23, worked six innings, permitting one run on four hits with two walks and six punchouts. A scout in attendance predicted Freeland could become a No. 2 or No. 3 starter with his arsenal. It is sneaky, if not breathtaking. He runs up his fastball at 95 miles per hour. His slider bites, and the changeup, which he developed last season in Triple-A, keeps hitters honest. He's not Chris Sale. But watch his delivery, and it's hard not see a little bit of the nuances. A lot of arms, a lot of elbows, a cross-fire delivery. And the poise is remarkable. In a moment that has melted previous prospects, Freeland worked with Prestone in his veins.

"I watched all afternoon," said Francis, who was flattered that Freeland looked up to him. "I loved it."

Freeland, who also recorded his first hit, worked around a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with a ground out by Yasmani Grandal. There was nothing not to like. The Rockies felt he could handle the assignment because of his ability to throw strikes -- his command led them to draft him -- and his calm demeanor. The crowd worked for him, not against him.

“It could not have gone any better,” Freeland said of his first start after the game.

And he pitched with little margin for error. The Rockies' offense has yet to gain traction, relying on big hits, not rallies. Nolan Arenado shoved Colorado in front in the first with a double to left field. Catcher Dustin Garneau, playing with a left-hander starting, homered in the fifth, ricocheting a fastball off the left-field foul pole.

Leaving the outcome to the bullpen last season was akin to handing an awards envelope to Steve Harvey. This year everything is different. The Rockies reshaped their relief corps. They signed left-hander Mike Dunn. It frees them to use Adam Ottavino more against righties. And Greg Holland continues to show why he could be one of the league's shrewdest offseason additions. But Friday required some tinkering. The aforementioned trio appeared in three of the first four games in Milwaukee. You can't tax a pen in the first week. So Carlos Estevez and Scott Oberg worked after Freeland, leaving Jake McGee to make his season debut in a closing role.

McGree ranked among the team's biggest disappointments a year ago. There were a number of reasons, but a knee injury was part of it. He hit 97 miles per hour in the ninth. It was rarely seen with any consistency last season. He looked better because of improved health and his work in the World Baseball Classic. The bullpen has allowed three runs in 17 1/3 innings with 22 Ks.

The Pen wrote the ending. But this story belongs to Freeland. It's impossible to predict how his career will go, but he will always have Friday. 

Up with Purple.


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