Maturing Biddle more equipped to minimize damage


Maturing Biddle more equipped to minimize damage

READING, Pa. -- If Jesse Biddle would have turned in a performance like Tuesday night’s last year, the outcome would have been much different. Chances are, the game would not have gone well for Biddle and the Reading Fightin' Phils.

But sometimes a little more maturity can be the best weapon in a pitcher's repertoire.

“I think the outcome would have been a lot different,” Biddle answered when asked how Tuesday’s performance would have gone if it happened last year. “I think I did a much better job of finding a way to get out of innings and finding a way to limit everything.”

In figuring out how to escape innings and limit bad things, Biddle learned that he can’t be perfect. That could be the biggest growth Reading manager Dusty Wathan has seen in the lefty this season.

“He understands that perfection is unattainable,” Wathan said. “I think at one time he thought he could go out there and strike everyone out and not throw any balls and it would be a perfect game. But I think he realizes that he needs to use his defense and he needs to be aggressive in the zone.”

For a pitcher to understand that he can’t be perfect is no small thing. That’s especially so for Biddle, who could be the best known prospect in the Phillies’ organization. After all, every time he takes the mound for the Phillies, he’s working for his hometown team -- Biddle followed the Phillies while growing up just as closely as the biggest fans.

Biddle, the Philadelphia kid from Germantown Friends and the Phillies' first-round pick in the 2010 draft, was both brilliant and sloppy for Double A Reading against New Hampshire at FirstEnergy Stadium. But that’s just the way it goes when the Phils’ top pitching prospect takes the mound.

If there is one hallmark for Biddle it's that he’s remarkably consistent with his inconsistency. It’s that trait that might have earned the 22-year-old a second season at Double A. Like any top prospect, Biddle is often brilliant and then prone to stretches in which he struggles to throw strikes. Sometimes that phenomenon occurs in the same game.

Look no further than Tuesday night’s game. In working six innings, during which he gave up two runs on eight hits and a pair of walks, Biddle eased through the first inning, throwing just seven pitches without allowing a ball to leave the infield.

An inning later, it took seven pitches for Biddle to give up a two-run homer.

That’s the way it went for much of Biddle’s outing. In his 10th start of the season, during one stretch Biddle threw six straight first-pitch strikes. Of course, that stretch was sandwiched between a pair of four first-pitch ball streaks.

But the difference between the 2013 version of Biddle and the 2014 model is things didn’t get out of control. At 3-4 with a 3.35 ERA, Biddle has seven appearances in which he’s allowed three earned runs or less. He also has pitched into the sixth inning in seven starts.

In the majors, they call those outings a quality start.

“In all, I’d say it was an average outing,” Wathan said. “He kept his team in the ballgame and he went six innings.

“We’re looking for more. It’s a quality start in the major leagues, it's OK, but we’re looking for more. Our expectations for quality are a little higher.”

Yes, the lefty still fights with the strike zone from time to time, but he has improved. More importantly, Biddle isn’t worried about every little thing when he’s on the mound. Last year, he may have stewed over a guy getting a hit. This year, he has a better understanding of what it takes to be a pitcher.

“It took me a while to realize that as soon as I release that ball, that’s it -- that’s all I can do,” Biddle said. “I can throw a perfect pitch on the outside corner and nine times out of 10 it can be a ground ball. But that one time it can be a homer and that hurts.”

It hurt on Tuesday, but that’s all Biddle allowed. Though he left the game trailing by a run, Biddle kept his team in it until it could rally to tie it with a run in the ninth and win it in the 12th on a walk-off homer from Brock Stassi.

“I didn’t feel great and I didn’t feel in control. But I understood I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Biddle said. “I gave up two runs and the team ended up getting the win and that’s what I set out to do.”

When Biddle can put it all together, look out. Yes, consistency and maturity are wonderful. But there’s something to be said for the talent, and Biddle has that, too.

The lefty leads the league with 61 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings, and is fourth in walks allowed with 24. That’s much improved from last season when Biddle was third in the Eastern League with 154 strikeouts in 138 1/3 innings, but first with 82 walks.

Obviously, the Phillies believe Biddle can get much better, which is another reason why he’s spending a second year at Double A. As Wathan said, there is a name for talented pitchers who are able to be consistent and mature at the same time.

“That’s why these guys are here,” Wathan said. “If they were really consistent, those guys are called major-leaguers.”

That’s what Biddle likely will be called one day. In the meantime, there’s more work to do.

Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

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Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

Matt Klentak keeps adding to his bullpen.

The Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with reliever Tommy Hunter, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury on Tuesday night.

The experienced right-hander will join veteran righty Pat Neshek, who is on the verge of re-signing with the Phillies, multiple sources said on Monday (see story).

Hunter, 31, has played for five teams over parts of 10 seasons. In 61 games (58 2/3 innings) with the Rays in 2017, Hunter posted career bests with a 2.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and .202 opponents' batting average, to go with 64 strikeouts and 14 walks. He started his career as a starter after he was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft by the Rangers. Since 2013, he has come out of the bullpen, compiling a 3.12 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

In 2011, Hunter was traded to the Orioles from Texas when current Phillies president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was in Baltimore. MacPhail left the Orioles after the 2011 season.

Hunter and Neshek will complement an already promising group of Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Hoby Milner.

"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning," Klentak said Monday at the winter meetings. "If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that’s taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn’t be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that’s the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that’s the way to do."

Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

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Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

Updated: 9:50 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles are shopping Manny Machado for a trade.

The Phillies love Machado.

So the Phils will do the deal, right?

It's not that simple.

Machado remained a hot topic on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday and the lobby buzz made it all the way to the Phillies' war room. General manager Matt Klentak would not take questions about any specific players — that would be a tampering violation — but he was posed with a scenario that would reflect Machado's situation.

Machado, 25, will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Therefore, he is under contractual control for just one more season.

So, Klentak was asked whether he would be willing to give up a slew of young talent — that's what it would take to get Machado — for a player under control only for a short period of time.

Klentak mulled the question. He covered all sides in his answer. But in the end, it sure sounded as if he would not be willing to pay the price to trade for a player like Machado. It sounded as if he'd rather roll the dice that Machado became a free agent in a year then try to get him for just money and not prospects.

"It obviously becomes more attractive to us if a player is under control for future years, plural," Klentak said. "If it’s a one-year contract before free agency, it’s less attractive. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do it. I realize these are less notable players than what you’re suggesting, but we’ve done that with some bullpen and starting pitcher additions the past couple years to acquire a player on a one-year deal. It really depends on what the return is, what would we have to give up in exchange for that player, whether that makes sense to acquire a player on a short-term contract. The years of control matter.

"I think we have to be open-minded to those scenarios, but the scenario you outlined presents some challenges that make it less likely. But we’re open-minded to just about everything."

Any team that acquires Machado, a slugging left-side infielder, this winter would have to be granted a 72-hour window from the Commissioner's Office to hammer out a contract extension before the deal is consummated. Even then, the deal would cost a team prospects and money. Look for the Phillies to stay in touch with the Orioles and monitor their asking price throughout the winter. But clearly, the Phillies prefer to hold on to as many of their young core players and prospects as they can as they seek to acquire players who would propel them closer to the top of the National League East.

This doesn't mean the Phillies would not be willing to subtract a young player or two for the right talent. The Phillies are looking for starting pitching and sources say they've investigated the possibility of acquiring young, under-control pitchers such as Chris Archer of the Rays and Michael Fulmer of the Tigers.

The Phillies are likely to add starting pitching through a trade, possibly one that involves shortstop Freddy Galvis or second baseman Cesar Hernandez. A person with a club from a team seeking a second baseman was asked about Hernandez on Tuesday. The person said the Phillies were being more aggressive in their efforts to move Galvis than they were Hernandez. That does not mean Hernandez will not be traded. The Phillies have set an extremely high price on him because he has three more years of contractual control and that is very valuable.

The Phillies' need for starting pitching and their deep pockets have led to a connection to free-agent Jake Arrieta. The Phillies, as is winter meetings custom, met with Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras, but it's highly unlikely they would sign the pitcher because he will be 32 next season and word is he is seeking a deal that could approach $200 million. The Phillies don't believe they are far enough along in their rebuild to commit those dollars and the years it would take to get Arrieta. So don't hold your breath on that one (see story). If Arrieta is still out there in February and his price tag came way down, well, check back then.

"We've spent the last day and a half meeting with most of the prominent agents in the industry — a lot of agents represent players we're targeting and players we're not targeting — and I can understand why sometimes the connection will get made that may not be perfectly accurate," Klentak said. 

"We're very cognizant of the fact that we're a large-market team that has carried large payrolls in the past and does not have a lot of future commitments. We know this about ourselves, the agents know this about us, the fans know this about us. I think it's natural to connect the Phillies to players who are going to command a lot of money. 

"I've said this before: There will come a time where those connections will be accurate and we will spend again. For where we are right now, we are very committed to giving the reps to our young players and it would take a pretty special set of circumstances for us to deviate from that."

Klentak wants to improve the Phillies' "run prevention." It would be nice to add a starting pitcher — you can pretty much bet the Phillies will — but run prevention can also be addressed in the bullpen. Klentak suggested it was likely that the team would add another veteran reliever beyond Pat Neshek in the coming days (see story), and it is as the Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with right-hander Tommy Hunter, according to a source Tuesday (see story).