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."

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Austin Jackson took an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians and ran with it.

Jackson was informed on Sunday that he has made Cleveland's opening-day roster, giving the AL champions some outfield depth in case Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley aren't ready for the start of the season.

The 30-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January. He missed the early part of training camp as he recovered from left knee surgery, but Jackson has made up for lost time by batting .375 with one homer and five RBIs in Cactus League games.

Jackson played in only 54 games last year with the Chicago White Sox before undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He's played in the postseason with Detroit and the Cubs.

Jackson had an out clause in his contract that had to be exercised by Sunday (see full story).

Rockies: Mark Reynolds' contract selected from Triple A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies have selected the contract of first baseman Mark Reynolds from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Reynolds figures to be the starter at first in the absence of Ian Desmond, who is out with a broken left hand.

The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 last season with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11. He broke a bone in his left hand while swinging a bat, had surgery on Aug. 15, was activated Aug. 31 and broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Sept. 18.

He re-signed with Colorado in February on a minor-league deal.

Also Sunday, Colorado placed right-hander Chad Bettis on the 60-day disabled list as he deals with testicular cancer. There is no timetable for Bettis' return.

Tigers: Lowe released; Jimenez to minor-league camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers have released right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, one of several cuts before Sunday's spring training game against Toronto.

Detroit also optioned catcher John Hicks to Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers reassigned right-handers Joe Jimenez, Ruben Alaniz, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Edward Mujica, infielder Dominic Ficociello and outfielders Anthony Gose and Juan Perez to minor league camp.

The Tigers signed Lowe to an $11 million, two-year contract before last season, but he was ineffective in 2016, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA in 54 appearances. He had a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances this spring.

In 2015, Lowe went 1-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 57 games with Seattle and Toronto.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.