Freeman leads Guardians to first series win in Miami in over a decade

June 9th, 2024

MIAMI — Tyler Freeman has yet to spend a full season in the Majors. After making his big league debut on Aug. 3, 2022, Freeman got into 24 games in ‘22 and 64 in ‘23 as he battled for playing time at shortstop, third base and second base behind the Guardians’ regular starters.

This year, with Freeman earning consistent playing time, he’s determined to stay in the bigs. While his numbers might not be the prettiest (a .222 average and a sub-.700 OPS), Freeman — like the Guardians — is playing with a bit more “grit.”

“We want it, and we understood what it was last year,” Freeman said after the Guardians’ series-winning 6-3 victory over the Marlins on Sunday at loanDepot park. “It wasn’t fun. We didn’t make the playoffs, and it was a tough season — we made a promise to ourselves that it wouldn’t happen again. And you know, that’s — I think it has a little extra grit to it this year.”

After Cleveland missed the postseason last year, the club entered 2024 with the goal of approaching each series as if it was a playoff series. Along similar lines, Freeman — who transitioned from middle infield to center field to get consistent reps — is working to prove he’s worth being an everyday center fielder.

If his performance on Sunday afternoon was any indication, it’s working.

It was Freeman who delivered the game-winning knock, crushing his sixth homer of the year to power the Guardians’ first series win in Miami since 2013.

“I’ve had some time up here now kind of understanding the league a little bit more as each day passes, and that’s something I want,” Freeman said. “I want to be the guy to come up in big situations and just try to cash in as much as possible with that.”

“He wants it,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “He wants to be up, he wants to come through for his teammates. He works, he fights and he keeps a good attitude. You know, I think that’s the one thing about Free — he’s always smiling. He’s always working, he’s locked in. And he got a good pitch to hit and didn’t miss it.”

When Freeman stepped to the plate in the seventh inning, it was in an eerily similar situation to the Guardians’ Game 1 loss to the Marlins. The game was knotted up, 2-2, and Cleveland had a pair of runners in scoring position.

“Saw our guys, runners in scoring position, and I asked our hitting coach what the plan was,” Freeman said, “and he goes, ‘Sit soft.’ [So] I sat soft, and tapped the ball up and it went out.”

What does “sitting soft” mean? According to Freeman, it’s pretty simple: “Sitting offspeed and slow.”

Freeman didn’t have to wait long, though, as Miami reliever AJ Puk started him off with an 84 mph sweeper down and inside — exactly what Freeman was looking for.

So, Freeman demolished it, sending the ball soaring off his bat to left field, arcing over the Marlins’ bullpen and landing in the stands.

“It feels great,” Freeman said. “When you know you got it, there’s no better feeling than that. Just barrelling up the baseball is really — it’s a good feeling.”

The homer — Freeman’s second in his past five games, after hitting one long ball the entire month of May — went 388 feet, per Statcast, with a 101.1 mph exit velo. It’s not the hardest homer Freeman has hit this year (that came on April 16 vs. the Red Sox, a 106 mph drive), but perhaps it’s an indication of things to come.

“It’s a long season,” Freeman said. “There’s definitely ups and downs, for sure. But it’s a good little run right now, and hopefully it can keep going.”

“I mean, Free’s obviously probably not having the year he would like to have, but he seems to come up with the big hit,” Vogt said. “He seems to come up clutch for us when we need [it]. And that was such a big swing for us and — I can’t say enough about Free.”