Rockies’ Freeland making big pitch for opening day role

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black isn’t ready to name his opening day starter. Kyle Freeland is pitching as if he’s got the job.

Black said Monday he had yet to talk to all of the pitchers about the rotation order. The Rockies open March 28 at Miami.

“You know Buddy — he’s not going to let you know until he tells you,” Freeland said.

Jon Gray has started opening day for the Rockies the last two seasons, but Freeland, 25, may have earned the assignment this year. The lefty went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA last season, throwing a career-high 202 1/3 innings. Freeland finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last year.

What was impressive was how Freeland didn’t seem to mind pitching at Coors Field. He went 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA at home and 7-5 with a 3.23 ERA on the road.

“I think a lot is made out of the altitude and both teams have to pitch there,” Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta said. “There have been times over the course of Rockies history where some of the guys on the pitching staff have been under talented compared to the rest of the league. I think now we have a pitching staff that’s on par with, if not better than (other teams), and Kyle’s one of those guys. He’s a great competitor. He doesn’t let the outside noise affect him. If anything, it kind of propels him further on.”

It may help that Freeland was born in Denver. He’s used to the altitude.

“There’s always talk about guys coming in who hate to pitch at Coors Field,” Freeland said. “You’ve already got an excuse in your mouth if you do that. You’re already setting yourself up for failure.”

“I think with Kyle, and we’ve seen some other pitchers, maybe not to the extent that Kyle has, but if you make good pitches, you’ll be rewarded no matter where you’re pitching,” Black said. “Kyle’s mentality is such where he doesn’t care where he pitches. The ultimate goal for Kyle is to pitch a strong game no matter where he is.”

Freeland did just that in the NL wild-card game against the Chicago Cubs, pitching 6 2/3 innings on short rest in a 2-1, 13-inning win.

“You’re in a situation when it’s one and done and everything’s on the line in that one game and you come out on top, you realize, ‘We belong here,’” Freeland said.

Freeland already has handled an opener, making his major league debut in the Rockies’ home opener on April 7, 2017.

“If I get the opportunity to pitch another home opener or pitch opening day, I’m still going to address it as if it’s another start for me,” Freeland said. “There’s no reason to change your mentality.”

On Monday, Freeland retired Reds leadoff batter Jesse Winker but then served up an opposite field home run to Scott Schebler on his third pitch of the game. Freeland lasted 4 2/3 innings and was lifted after throwing 77 pitches.

“I was impressed by everything he did last year,” Iannetta said of the lefty. “His stuff is great — his compete level is off the charts. His ability to find ways that when he got in trouble or the game sped up, he found ways to rise ot the occasion which is impressive.”

NOTES: Ryan McMahon went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, including his third home run this spring, a 466-foot shot to straightaway center. He’s batting .444 this spring, tops in baseball in both Arizona and Florida. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘It’s just spring,’ but when you’re going good, you put it up a little higher,” McMahon said. “I’m definitely excited about where I’m at and just want to try to keep going with it because it’s a very humbling game.” ... The Rockies optioned outfielder Noel Cuevas to Triple-A Albuquerque and reassigned infielder Peter Mooney, right-handed pitcher Peter Lambert, and left-handed pitcher Sam Howard to minor league camp. The Rockies now have 35 players in camp, including four non-roster invitees. ... Right-handed pitcher Antonio Senzatela is sidelined because of an infected blister on his right heel caused by new shoes. Lefty reliever Chris Rusin has been slowed because of upper back discomfort. ... The Rockies have catchers Iannetta, Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters in camp. Will they carry all three in the regular season? “Doubtful,” Black said.

More AP MLB: and