Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies go with young pitchers in key game

DENVER — Two young starters who have assumed prominent roles in their respective rotations will oppose each other Saturday when the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers continue their series.

The Dodgers trail the Rockies by a half game in the National League West after their 4-2 win on Friday. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Friday, are third, 1 1/2 games behind the Rockies.

The Dodgers are one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the second NL wild-card spot.

Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland (13-7, 2.96 ERA) has been their most consistent starter all season. And Walker Buehler (6-4, 2.92) has recovered from a rib injury and become the Dodgers’ second-best starter behind Clayton Kershaw.

Freeland, 25, is in his second full season in the majors. Buehler, 24, is in his first full season after making his major league debut exactly one year ago Friday.

Both pitchers are former first-round draft picks. Buehler was taken 24th overall out of Vanderbilt in 2015. Freeland was the eighth overall selection in 2014 out of Evansville.

Being a Denver native, Freeland said he has “a special pride” starting a meaningful September game against the Dodgers. The Rockies are 19-9 in games started by Freeland, who has been particularly effective in hitter-friendly Coors Field, going 7-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 12 starts there this season.

In his past seven starts, Freeland is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA while allowing two home runs in 43 2/3 innings.

Freeland is coming off a win Sunday at San Diego where he gave up seven hits and three runs in six innings in Colorado’s 7-3 triumph.

Freeland is 1-3 with a 3.90 ERA in six career starts against the Dodgers, and 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts against them this season. The most recent was a no-decision Aug. 11 at Coors Field where Freeland allowed six hits and two runs in seven innings with two walks and a career-high 10 strikeouts in Colorado’s 3-2 win.

He’ll face them again with the pennant race in sharper focus than it was a month ago.

“It’s exciting knowing that we’re in the hunt, they’re in the hunt, they’re a rival in our division,” Freeland said. “It’s really exciting, but you can’t buy into the hype. You still have to go out there and play your brand of baseball. You can’t try to do too much or do less or anything like that. You need to stay focused on what you need to get done.”

Save for an ill-fated relief appearance that lasted one inning June 28, Buehler didn’t pitch for the Dodgers from June 9 thru July 12 due to a microfracture in his right rib.

The Dodgers are 11-7 in starts by Buehler, who in his last outing Sunday against the Diamondbacks allowed one run and two hits in 6 1/3 innings but ended up with a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 3-2 win.

In nine starts since returning from his rib injury, Buehler is 2-2, and he is 2-0 over his last six starts.

“I think I came off the rib injury and kind of tried to simplify things,” Buehler said. “Really tried to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t, and I changed the curveball grip and have kind of thrown more hard sliders, cutters.”

Buehler had thrown a knuckle-curve but said he wasn’t getting the swings and misses he wanted, so he is now throwing a more traditional curveball. He said with the slider and cutter, he is now throwing each with more conviction “instead of throwing one that spins and you never know which one it was going to be.”

Buehler has made seven career appearances, including three starts, against the Rockies and is 0-0 with a 4.07 ERA. All three of those starts came this season, and Buehler had a 2.37 ERA in those games.

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