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There is a fine balance in the game of baseball between repeating what has worked and staying ahead of the adjustment curve, never allowing past success to fool you into believing the future will be the same. The future, in baseball, is almost never the same as the past.
Colorado Rockies rookie pitcher and Denver native, Kyle Freeland, didn’t exactly have a poor season in 2017. In fact, much of it was like living a dream. In every conversation, we had with him from his emotional debut at the home opener or his flirtation with history, the word that seemed to come up most often was “surreal.”
It’s hard to imagine the year going much better for the lefty, but in the game of baseball, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.
Recognizing a few tweaks that could be made to help him stay on the edges of the strike zone with supreme accuracy, Freeland has made some mechanical adjustments meant to add both a bit of command and a bit of power.
“I feel good,” he says after a few spring training starts with the new flow. “Everything feels a bit more smooth, less choppy, and that is correlating to keeping my frontside up and strong and being able to finish down through pitches instead of my leg swinging out and getting non-directional with it.”
He says he feels especially good about throwing his fastball away to right-handed hitters, or glove side. This has been the area of the zone where, when Freeland is on, he dominates. But when his mechanics got looser, the ball began to float either across the plate for easy pickings or well outside the zone for an easy take.
In the minors, these mistakes were punished less often and those pitches outside the zone chased with more regularity. So with the more seasoned hitters laying off, the southpaw began to walk more batters than was typical, and certainly more than he would like.
“It’s been my main focus from last season to this season to cut down on walks, fill up the strike zone, definitely feels good not walking anybody,” he said after his latest spring outing. “I think I only got to one or two 3-2 counts.”
There is no one key to pitching. Though, of course, adding velocity and command has been a tried and true method for over 100 years.
But Freeland has always been a cerebral pitcher. We saw it in his response to a fiery mound chat with manager Bud Black and we even saw it again just a few days ago.
“Darren Holmes came to me on the mound and told me that my tempo was looking a little quick,” he said. “Going back out in the third, I consciously made an effort to slow it down and it worked.”
Sometimes, it’s the little things.
Whether Freeland takes the next step with these adjustments and establishes himself as one of the more feared pitchers on the Rockies or whether he experiences a kind of sophomore slump is still yet to be seen. After all, the rest of the league is making their adjustments, too.
But the talent is there. The mind for the game is there. The desire to get better, despite having already been pretty good, is there. And that’s a decent place to start.