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Renck: Kyle Freeland “sick and tired of losing,” aims to help Rockies rebound

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Freeland pitches like he’s getting even with the world.

He doesn’t unleash a big fastball, not by major league standards. His changeup remains a work in progress. He’s not overpowering, just relentless. Every time his left arm raises and fires the baseball to the plate, it feels personal.

As you can imagine, Freeland is over his parade of tough games, over the Rockies needing a telescope to see the Los Angeles Dodgers, if not everyone else, in the National League West standings.

“The overall brunt force of losing year in and year out for the past five years, it wears on you. You get really sick and tired of it, and I think a lot of guys in the clubhouse are sick and tired of that,” Freeland told me Tuesday at Salt River Fields. “We are looking to move on and get back to where we want to be.”

The refreshing candor of Freeland makes him a magnet for the media, a favorite of a fanbase that resides somewhere between angry and apathetic. He is the local kid who made good, from starring at Thomas Jefferson High School — his parents still live in the home where he grew up, 15 minutes away from Coors Field — to toying with the Dodgers in his major league debut.

The prevailing opinion is the Rockies will be abysmal this season — a high 50s to low 60s forecast is ideal for spring Denver weather, but not a win total. Freeland wants to be a reason everyone is wrong. German Marquez wants it for him.

“I see the old Kyle from like seven years ago. I feel like this is going to be a great season for him,” Marquez said. “When he’s out there pitching well, showing emotion, pumping his fist, I freaking love it.”

Since his zenith in 2018, when he finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting, Freeland has been humbled, hurt and hunting for answers. He boasts a 27-47 record with a 4.96 ERA over the past five seasons. He clawed back from a minor league demotion in 2019 and has endured a string of ailments from tight hamstrings to a sore oblique and balky shoulder.

He makes no excuses. At 30, entering his eighth season, he wants more, expects better, his passion for redemption burning like a blowtorch.

“It’s about giving it my all every single time I take the rock. I owe it to myself, I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to the fans, the state of Colorado,” Freeland said. “You can’t take this opportunity for granted. If you do, I feel bad for you.”

No one feels sorry for the Rockies. Or their lack of pitching. Freeland is a huge sports fan (don’t be surprised if you see him at Avs and Nuggets playoff games). He knows how this works. He hears the criticism. He is the Rockies’ second highest paid player behind Kris Bryant. They need Freeland to anchor the rotation, especially with Marquez out until after the All-Star break as he recovers from elbow surgery.

When the Rockies were last good, so, too, was Freeland. Those seasons remain a lighthouse in the current storm.

“It hasn’t been great for us, tough sledding with guys hitting free agency, trades, young guys coming up and a bit of turnover the last few years,” Freeland said. “It hasn’t been a ton of fun out on the field, having losing seasons, watching the playoffs, watching the Dodgers always go, the Giants and Padres in the mix and the Diamondbacks doing their thing last year. That’s where we want to get back to, that 2017, 2018 kind of team where we know showing up to the ballpark we are winning tonight.”

Spring training, as it is wont to do, offers hope. Forget the results — March stats are hollow, though he has been dominant —the left-hander has shown tangible improvement. When he began long toss in January, his delivery felt smoother than left-out butter. He was able to let it rip without a wince. His fastball has pop again, reaching 92 to 94 mph with regularity. And he has a changeup that represents a potential equalizer after years of tinkering.

“It’s really nice to have my body feeling truly 100 percent, nothing nagging me for the first time in a few years. I was able to go through a whole offseason, get proper work in and focus on getting my velo back,” Freeland said. “And that changeup has always been a pitch that’s kind of been a bugaboo. You find it, then you lose it and you are searching for it again. My confidence is definitely back in that pitch.”

Manager Bud Black named Freeland as the Rockies’ opening day starter for next Thursday’s opener at the Diamondbacks. It is the third time he has received the honor. But this one feels different, earned after an offseason of rolled up sleeves, honest self-reflection and more red meat in his diet to help him maintain his weight.

“There’s more of an art to pitching with Kyle than when he just turned the ball loose earlier in his career,” Black said. “And he has never wavered from taking the ball. His devotion to the team (is always there). Those are the guys you want.”

Freeland is Denver. He is Colorado. Getting his career, his team back on track, it would mean everything to him.

“Being drafted by my hometown team, making my debut with them, having a career here, signing a (contract) extension, it’s very unique,” Freeland said. “I am extremely happy with how the Rockies have treated me for 10 years. We are tired of losing. I want to be part of the group that turns this around.”

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