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Freeland endures a rocky outing down on farm

Lefty Kyle Freeland pitches for the Isotopes against Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. He was the Colorado Rockies’ opening-day starter but is in Albuquerque working on his command. GREG SORBER/JOURNAL

Kyle Freeland’s Wednesday night ended better than it began.

Optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque to locate his missing command, the Colorado Rockies’ talented left-hander hasn’t entirely found it yet.

Freeland made his second start for the Isotopes and things did not go according to plan. Visiting Oklahoma City bashed two home runs in the first two innings – one of them a grand slam – and pulled out a 12-9 victory in the opener of a three-game series.

Freeland struggled to hit his spots early and OKC batters capitalized. Will Smith launched a tape-measure solo blast to the CNM parking lot beyond left field. Zach Reks later lofted an opposite-field grand slam just over the fence in left. Reks added a towering drive that landed – and somehow stayed – on the fence just above the 428 sign above the center-field berm for an RBI double.

Freeland, who was Colorado’s opening-day starter, left a number of pitches up early in Wednesday’s start.

“One of the things I’ve struggled with is fastball command,” he said. “When I miss up in the zone like that is when I’ve had problems.”

But the 26-year-old has a plan for regaining his touch, which seemed to improve as the game went on. Freeland allowed an unearned run in the fourth inning, worked a 1-2-3 fifth and got two outs in the sixth before a pair of walks ended his outing.

Both runners came around to score, leaving an unsightly pitching line for Freeland (eight earned runs in 52/3 innings). Still, the lefty came away encouraged.

“The scoreboard didn’t show it,” Freeland said, “but I felt like my mechanics got better and I got more comfortable after the first couple innings. We’ve basically eliminated my slider for now so I can work on commanding my fastball, change-up and curveball. I think tonight was progress.”

Freeland’s recent struggles have come as a surprise after he posted a 17-7 record for the Rockies last season. Despite pitching home games at homer-friendly Coors Field, Freeland allowed just 17 long balls in 202 innings.

But he gave up 16 home runs in 59 innings with the Rockies this season, posting a 2-6 record and a 7.13 earned-run average before being optioned.

Still, Freeland can take a positive lesson from recent club history. Colorado starter Jon Gray went through a similar slump last season and turned things around during a two-week stint in Albuquerque. Gray pitched well throughout the second half and posted a 5-2 record down the stretch.

BOMBS AWAY: Freeland is hardly the only pitcher in the Rockies organization who’s heard numerous loud cracks of the bat this season.

Albuquerque pitching has been battered for 121 long balls in 2019 – the most in all of minor league baseball.

Colorado has given up 68 homers. Only three major league teams have surrendered more.

BOMBS AWAY PART 2: Opposing pitchers have not been spared when facing the Isotopes and Wednesday was no exception. Drew Butera, Yonathan Daza and Sam Hilliard hit home runs, giving Albuquerque 104 this season.

The Isotopes are on pace to far surpass the 2008 franchise record of 197 homers in a season. Unfortunately for the home team, all of Wednesday’s long balls were solo shots.

MAKING THINGS INTERESTING: Trailing 12-7 after eight innings, the Isotopes provided a little late drama Wednesday. Hilliard hit an RBI triple and scored on Brian Mundell’s single to make it 12-9 with one out. Singles by Roberto Ramos and Elliot Soto then loaded the bases.

But a strikeout and Noel Cuevas’ lineout to center field allowed the Dodgers to hold on for the win.