Rockies keep pushing for postseason as they host Nationals

STATS/TSX

DENVER -- Colorado left-hander Kyle Freeland, who has been remarkably consistent all season and particularly effective at Coors Field, will start Friday for the surging Rockies against the Washington Nationals.

The Rockies took another step Thursday toward making the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in their 26-year history with a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday. A four-game sweep of the Phillies has extended Colorado's winning streak to a season-high-tying seven games and reduced their magic number for a postseason appearance to two.

In quest of their first National League West title, the Rockies (89-70) lead the division by one game over the Los Angeles Dodgers (88-71), who were off Thursday. The Rockies are two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second NL wild-card spot. The Cardinals were also idle Thursday.

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Freeland (16-7, 2.84) will oppose Joe Ross (0-1, 4.09), who will make his third start for the Nationals since returning from Tommy John surgery in July 2017.

Freeland is 7-0, 2.10 in his past 10 starts, nine of which the Rockies have won. The Rockies are 22-10 in games started by Freeland, who has recorded 10 consecutive quality starts and 23 this season.

He's 9-2, 2.36 in 14 starts at Coors Field and ranks third in home ERA among NL pitchers, trailing only Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets (1.54) and the Cardinals' Miles Mikolas (2.17).

Freeland, 25, was 0-3, 5.85 after his first four starts this season. At that point, he and catcher Chris Iannetta realized Freeland had to come inside more often with his four-seam fastball to right-handed hitters. At the same time, Freeland was beginning to get better results from his changeup as a result of following a suggestion from bullpen coach Darren Holmes and dragging his left toe hard when throwing the pitch to take velocity off it.

After those first four starts, Freeland has gone 16-4, 2.50 in his subsequent 28 starts, limiting opponents to a .229 average and .629 OPS.

"It was early in the season," Freeland said. "I knew there was a long way to go, and there's no reason to wash this season just because my first four starts weren't what I wanted them to be.

"There were things I had to realize quickly and I did with the help of Chris and our pitching coaches, realizing we had to stay with my strengths. We have to pitch inside. We have to make the hitters uncomfortable. We can't just let them get extension all the time and hope that that two-seam (fastball) just gets hit in the ground every single time, because that's just not going to happen over the course of 30-32 starts."

Freeland is 1-0, 3.72 in two starts against Washington. Ross is 0-0, 9.64 in one four-inning relief appearance against the Rockies on April 25, 2017, at Coors Field.

Ross gave up four runs (three earned) in six innings Friday in a 95-pitch start against the Mets and was the losing pitcher as the Nationals fell 4-2.

"The uncertainty of how it will end, if you'll be back, was the toughest part, I think, for me," Ross told the Washington Post before his first start for the Nationals earlier this month, referring to his comeback from Tommy John surgery. "But I kind of just went day-by-day, and I am back here now, so it paid off in the end."

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