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."

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.