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."

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of clich√© to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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