Kluber, Freeland set for debuts as Rangers, Rockies clash

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The Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies wrap up their three-game series on Sunday, and the focus will be on the comeback stories of both starters.

When right-hander Corey Kluber makes his debut with the Rangers, it will be after a disappointing 2019 with the Cleveland Indians. Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and 2017 with Cleveland, made only seven starts last season. A line drive last May 1 fractured his pitching arm, and a late-season comeback was aborted when he sustained an oblique injury.

Two years after winning 18 games and posting a 2.25 ERA, Kluber finished 2019 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA.

Kluber, who attended high school in Texas, looks like he is returning to form, according to Rangers pitching coach Julio Rangel.

“When it comes to his stuff, how his pitches are moving, everything about him like how he attacks the zone has been really encouraging,” Rangel told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m confident with where he’s at right now. I can’t wait to see him in the regular season.”

Rangel will get a look Sunday, and the Rockies will also get a chance to see if lefty Kyle Freeland can pitch like he did in 2018, when he set a franchise record with a 2.85 ERA. Like Kluber, Freeland is a local product, and he provided plenty of excitement for the team he grew up rooting for.

Freeland, who allowed two runs in seven innings of a no-decision in his only previous meeting with the Rangers, won 17 games two seasons ago, but 2019 was one to forget. Control issues led to a 3-11 record and a 6.73 ERA in 22 starts, and he was sent down to Triple-A to correct those problems.

“Last year, he got on sort of a spiral in a number of areas,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “His arm felt great the whole year. Just from a scouting perspective, his fastball, what happened was it’s a fine line. His delivery never really got comfortable. We talked about that pause, and I think that worked against him.”

Freeland tweaked things in spring training and summer camp, and pitching coach Scott Foster sees a difference.

“Everything is much better,” Foster said. “The biggest changes are the curveball is 78-82 [mph] for variance, and the cutter/slider is more vertical. His fastball has been 89-95, which is usual. The changeup is still mid-80s with more depth.”

The Rockies have gotten two strong starts to begin the season, including one from Jon Gray in Saturday’s 3-2 win in Arlington. The teams have combined for just six runs in the first two games.

Kluber, who is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in two meetings with the Rockies, will try to give Texas a win in the rubber game of the series while keeping his nerves in check when he takes the mound.

“I would imagine that once the game starts, it’ll feel pretty normal to me,” he said. “I think that that’s kind of the exciting part of it, is getting a chance to go out there and compete against guys again.

“You know when it means something, I think that that’s what, when you’re injured, that’s the part that you miss the most, is being out there with teammates, competing, trying to win.”

–Field Level Media

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