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.