Tough '13 has Biddle eager to prove himself again

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Tough '13 has Biddle eager to prove himself again

Jesse Biddle dominated the Eastern League last April. He had a 1.74 ERA in five starts. He held his opponents to a .114 batting average. He struck out 40 batters in 31 innings. In back-to-back starts to end the month he went 13 innings, allowed two hits and struck out 26.

He was on his way.

If you don't remember the reaction locally, you can probably imagine it.

Should the Phillies bring Biddle up now? If not, is he a potential September callup? Just how high is his ceiling?

It didn't last long.

Over the ensuing weeks, Biddle developed whooping cough and plantar fasciitis, struggled with control issues and on four occasions over the next three months failed to pitch into the third inning.

At 22, it was the perfect lesson about not just baseball, but life.

"Huge for my growth, maturity went through the roof," Biddle said Thursday of his tumultuous 2013. "I was really, really immature in some ways handling my illnesses, handling some of the adversity I was facing. And handling my failures, because let's be honest, there were a lot of times I failed last year, and I didn't handle it the right way.

"I could probably stand here and tell you a million different reasons why I sucked at certain points last year. Because I did. It was rough, really rough. I was at the lowest of the lows I've had in my baseball career -- going out there for two-thirds of an inning. My high school coach came to see me pitch in Binghamton (July 23) and I threw two-thirds of an inning.

"So I could tell you a million different reasons. I could say it was my illness, I could say it was mechanics, I could say its mental ... the fact is it's everything.

"I think there are some things I really want to grow up on and improve, and thats why I'm here."

Here was the Phillies' clubhouse, where Biddle, Maikel Franco (see story) and six other prospects spoke to the media as part of a week-long Phillies prospect education program.

Biddle is fully recovered from both ailments and eager to impress at his first big-league camp, which he'll attend as a non-roster invitee.

This is an important year for the 2010 first-rounder out of the Germantown Friends School. He's slated to start the year at either Double A or Triple A, and he could easily see time in the majors if he pitches well and the Phillies have an injury to their ultra thin starting rotation.

"I let the pressure get to me [last season]," Biddle said. "I let certain things affect me that I shouldn't. And at the end of the day, I'm so excited for 2014 I couldn't tell you, because I just want to show everybody I put the work in, I put the time in. This is really my passion in life.

"But if I have that low again, if I go through a period again where I don't pitch very well, my goal is to see if I handle it. Obviously, everybody's going to go through trouble, so I'm just going to see how I handle it and go from there."

Had Biddle breezed through Double A last season he likely never would have learned those lessons. And when eventual struggles occurred at Triple A or in the majors, it would have been a completely new experience for him. So in many ways, what he went through in 2013 was a positive, since wins and losses at Double A mean very little in the grand scheme of things and the big-league club was going nowhere.

Now he gets to take his refined mental approach to Clearwater, where he'll hope to pitch well in whatever opportunity he gets, and maybe pick up a few tricks along the way.

One priority: Learn Cole Hamels' changeup.

"I'm definitely gonna have to ask about Cole Hamels' changeup," Biddle said. "He's got an amazing changeup, one that I've admired for a long time, and I know if mine could be a little bit more like that it would definitely help me.

"Whether I pitch well or whether I pitch badly, I'm gonna learn a lot [in spring training], I'm gonna ask a lot of questions. There's a whole lot of experience on the roster -- I mean, the head coach is a Hall of Famer, you don't get opportunities like that."

At some point down the road, Biddle will get an even better opportunity. So long as he stays the course, avoids injury and continues to strike out more than a batter per inning.

"To be able to pitch [in Philadelphia] would be incredible," he said. "That's what my mind's been set on since my mind could be set on anything. It's a matter of staying of focused, and I have a goal, and that's to be able to sit in this locker room every day and answer questions."

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

The Phillies are loading up with right-handed hitters for Tuesday's series opener at U.S. Cellular Field against White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon.

Odubel Herrera is out of the lineup and Aaron Altherr takes his place in center field. Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel are in the outfield corners. 

Carlos Ruiz serves as the designated hitter against Rodon, who has huge platoon splits. Righties have hit .305/.365/.484 against Rodon; lefties have hit .220/.268/.286.

Rodon has a changeup to stave off right-handed hitters, but he's used it only eight percent of the time this season. He's thrown his 94 mph fastball, sinker or slider with 92 percent frequency (see game notes).

Emmanuel Burriss gets a start at second base.

Ryan Howard is out of the lineup. U.S. Cellular Field is the only active stadium in which he's never played. The Phillies haven't been there since 2004.

1. Peter Bourjos, RF
2. Aaron Altherr, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Carlos Ruiz, DH
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Emmanuel Burriss, 2B

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Phillies right-handed starting pitcher Alec Asher, who was suspended 80 games in late May for PEDs, will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday in the Gulf Coast League.

Asher, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts with Triple A Lehigh Valley before the ban was handed down.

The Phillies will likely stretch him back out and get a look at him again in September. They've dealt with various injuries to starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola (elbow) and Zach Eflin (knees, foot). Plus, there's the possibility Vince Velasquez is shut down at some point in September. He is five innings shy of matching his career high. That could open up a spot in the rotation for Asher.

Asher debuted with the Phils last Aug. 30 after being acquired from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade. He went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts last season but pitched well in the minors early this year thanks to the addition of a two-seam fastball.

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies (58-67) at White Sox (59-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

After going 2-4 on a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Phillies visit the White Sox for a brief two-game series. Rarely does interleague play take the Phils to the South Side of Chicago. 

How rarely?

1. The last time ...
The last time the Phillies were in Chicago to take on the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field was 2004. 

The series was so long ago that Ryan Howard hadn't yet made his major-league debut. Chase Utley was still a part-time player. Carlos Ruiz was wrapping up his first full season at Double A.

It was so long ago that Ricky Ledee, Tomas Perez and Doug Glanville were in the Phillies' lineup, and Frank Thomas was the White Sox DH. 

Since interleague play began in 1997, the only other park the Phillies have visited as sparingly as U.S. Cellular Field is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Phils are 1-2 at both AL Central fields. 

At the beginning of the season it looked like this would be another reunion for the Phils and Jimmy Rollins, but the shortstop was designated for assignment by the White Sox after hitting .221 through 41 games.

2. Thompson's turn
Jake Thompson makes his fourth big-league start after going 1-2 with a 8.79 ERA in his first three. 

It's been a true struggle so far for Thompson, who has allowed 14 runs in 14⅓ innings on 14 hits and nine walks. He's walked multiple batters each game, and so far just 57.5 percent of his pitches have been strikes. 

Thompson keeps falling behind hitters with men on base, which is a recipe for disaster. It just seems like he's not finishing pitches out of the stretch. Or maybe he's tried too hard to evade solid contact and has nibbled instead. Whatever the case, it hasn't worked and Thompson will need to fix it to figure out what kind of pitcher he needs to be in the majors. 

Thompson had a 1.21 ERA in his final 11 starts at Triple A. The talent is there. The execution just hasn't been. A lot of times, young pitchers come up and struggle before figuring it out. The early successes of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and even Zach Eflin (after his first start) may cause you to forget that.

3. The book on Rodon
The Phillies for the first time face 23-year-old White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon, who was drafted third overall in 2014, four picks ahead of Nola.

Rodon is one of the only players in that entire draft who made it to the majors faster than Nola. He came up last season and went 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA for the White Sox, striking out 139 batters in 139⅓ innings but walking 71. 

This season, Rodon is 3-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 20 starts. It's been a rocky season, but he's been much better of late. Rodon missed almost all of July with a sprained wrist he suffered falling down the dugout steps. He's returned to pitch well in August, giving up four earned runs in 18 innings.

Rodon's control has improved significantly this season — he's walked 3.0 batters per nine innings after walking 4.6 as a rookie.

Rodon is a four-pitch pitcher with a four-seam fastball and sinker that average 94 mph, a slider at 87 and a changeup at 84. He throws the changeup just eight percent of the time.

Right-handed hitters have pounded Rodon this season, hitting .305/.365/.484. Lefties have hit just .220/.268/.286. Expect to see Tommy Joseph at first base and perhaps Tyler Goeddel in the outfield.

4. Scouting the Sox
The White Sox got off to a fast start this season, going 23-10 through May 9. They're 18 games under .500 since.

That early-season surge was built on timely offense and lights-out work from the bullpen. It probably inflated expectations for what is really just an average American League team.

Leadoff man Adam Eaton and veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera have had solid years for the Sox. Eaton has hit .276 with a .357 OBP and 37 extra-base hits. Cabrera has hit .295 with a .778 OPS.

The White Sox needed and still need more out of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, though. Abreu is hitting a respectable .283/.338/.447 but has just 16 home runs. And that's with Abreu heating up this month, hitting .361 with five homers. The big Cuban slugger has declined in each of his three seasons in the majors, his OPS dropping from .964 to .849 to .785. He hit 36 homers as a rookie and 30 last season.

Frazier, per usual, has hit for power with 31 homers and 76 RBIs. But he's hitting just .212 with a .295 on-base percentage, and those 31 homers account for one-third of his hits. He's also striking out a lot, on pace for 160.

The White Sox are too top-heavy a team. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are a solid one-two punch atop the rotation. On paper, Abreu and Frazier should be a productive middle-of-the-order pairing. Eaton and Cabrera are adequate table-setters. And high-priced closer David Robertson still has great stuff. But the formula just hasn't led to wins in 2016.

5. This and that
• This is the only week the rest of the season the Phillies have two off days (Monday and Thursday).

• The Phils face the White Sox in another two-game series Sept. 20-21 at Citizens Bank Park.

• The Phillies have the fifth-best interleague record in the NL this season at 8-8. 

• The Phils are 14-14 against left-handed starting pitchers.