Kyle Freeland, Rockies youngsters excel vs. White Sox

Joey Pollizze

By Joey Pollizze

CHICAGO — For the Rockies, September is a time for their young players to grow in the big leagues and for their veterans to end the year on a high note. Wednesday’s series finale was a good opportunity for Kyle Freeland to continue his recent success and for the younger players to continue to develop at the plate.

Both Freeland and the youngsters carried the Rockies to a 3-0 victory against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, showing glimpses of Colorado’s future.

“I liked it all,” manager Bud Black said of Freeland’s outing. “It was really good from the get-go. I thought he was outstanding.”

When the Rockies signed Freeland to a five-year, $64.5 million contract in April, they saw someone who can be the top guy in their rotation. Despite struggles to start the year, the southpaw is finally showing that he can be that pitcher for years to come.

With his 6 2/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday, Freeland has now allowed just two runs across 18 1/3 innings in three September starts.

“I feel good right now for sure, definitely in a groove,” Freeland said. “I feel really good about my entire arsenal right now and everything has been working with me, not against me.”

The Rockies have seen Freeland’s true potential before. In 2018, Freeland finished the year with a 2.85 ERA and 173 strikeouts, and he placed fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. That’s the type of pitching that Colorado is hoping to see once again from the 29-year-old.

His recent outings are a great start for regaining that dominance and carrying it into 2023. And Freeland isn’t the only player hoping to end the year strong. Many young Rockies players are hoping to show their potential over the final three weeks of the season.

Wednesday was another good teaching moment, going up against American League Cy Young Award favorite Dylan Cease.

“Seeing a guy like Cease, even [Michael] Kopech [on Tuesday], what a learning experience for these guys,” Black said. “It stands them up. All our younger guys are getting an opportunity here and they’re learning it. It opens their eyes to what they need to realize about what it’s going to take to stay and be a big league hitter.”

Players like Yonathan Daza, Alan Trejo and Michael Toglia all made an impact against Cease and got to him early. Daza singled twice off Cease, including an RBI single in the second, while Trejo hit an RBI double and Toglia walked and scored a run.

“I feel like we keep doing great,” Daza said. “I feel like our things are playing better, especially outside Coors Field, and that’s a good sign for us.”

On the stat sheet, Toglia’s second-inning walk might not stick out. But after falling behind 1-2 in the count to a pitcher like Cease, then fouling off two pitches to stay alive and working an eight-pitch walk, the rookie showed the type of offensive threat that he can be in the Majors.

That walk led to the first run of the game on Trejo’s double.

“He’s capable of that,” Black said. “I think that’s the thing we’ve seen since we signed him and got him to pro ball. There’s a strike-zone discipline there, where the chase is not something that we see a lot from him. Against a guy like Cease, you’ve got to be ready to hit, and he had a really nice at-bat. That was big.”

Toglia is still getting his feet wet in the big leagues since getting called up on Aug. 30. But with six doubles and two homers over his first 14 games, the Rockies are so far impressed with him.

“He’s learning,” Black said. “He’s learning the difference between Minor League baseball and big league baseball. He’s not a finished product. He’s got some things to do, but we’ve seen enough good things to lead us to believe that he can be a solid Major League player.”

Daza, Toglia and Trejo all had at least one quality at-bat against Cease on Wednesday, who allowed three earned runs for just the sixth time this season. That, mixed in with Freeland outdueling one of MLB’s best, could serve as a stepping stone for next season.

“That was amazing,” Daza said of Freeland’s outing. “He’s been doing so great. You can see it on the field, and I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard, and hopefully, he can continue.”

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