Saturday, February 13, 2016

Five observations: Putting the brakes on the Biddle express

Jesse Biddle was excellent on Monday night, but let's not get carried away.

Five observations: Putting the brakes on the Biddle express

Reading Fightin Phils pitcher Jesse Biddle. (Jacqueline Dormer/The Republican-Herald/AP)
Reading Fightin Phils pitcher Jesse Biddle. (Jacqueline Dormer/The Republican-Herald/AP)

Five facts and/or observations after Monday night's 3-2 win over the Pirates. . .

1) Jesse Biddle will not be a member of the Phillies rotation this season. I do not say that to diminish his stellar outing against the Nationals' Double-A affiliate last night, when he struck out 16 and retired the first 19 batters he faced. But some of us have a tendency to get a bit carried away in the wake of such performances. It was a very impressive start. It wasn't the script for Kevin Costner's next film. Things can change quickly at Double-A. One need only harken back to last April, when Trevor May got off to a hot start at Reading. Eight months later he was traded with Vance Worley for Ben Revere.

Trevor May, first four Double-A starts: 23 innings, 6 runs, 8 walks, 26 strikeouts

Jesse Biddle, first four Double-A starts: 25 innings, 6 runs, 9 walks, 30 strikeouts

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The consensus seems to be that Biddle is a better prospect than May. Stuff wise, the biggest reason to favor Biddle is his plus 12/6 curveball, which he located consistently when I saw him in his last start, which was also against the Nationals' Double-A affiliate. His future will be determined by two things: the development of his changeup, and the consistent location of his fastball. The second part is the biggest reason you should not be seeing him in a major league uniform until next spring training. Biddle is still a bit raw when it comes to repeating his delivery on a consistent basis. He'll have lapses where he throws seven or eight balls in a 10 pitch stretch, mostly because his fastball is taking off on him. Watch him pitch for six innings and watch Adam Morgan pitch for six innings and it is easy to see why one is at Double-A and why one is at Triple-A. You can see the polish on Morgan. He is consistently down in the zone and always around the plate, and his mechanics always look the same. Don't get me wrong. That's to be expected. Again, Biddle is only 21 years old. Morgan is 23 and has the experience of pitching three years in the SEC. But that's why we should all take a deep breath and let Biddle continue to develop -- and hit his inevitable rough patches -- at Double-A. At this point, the Phillies do not project to have more than two openings in their rotation next season, at least one of which would likely be filled by a veteran (Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick are all under team control and likely to return; John Lannan is arbitration eligible but was non-tendered this season). With Morgan impressing at Triple-A, and with Pettibone coming off a decent major league debut, the Phillies will not have any apparent need to press Biddle into action, as they did with Cole Hamels when he was 22 years old (and Vance Worley when he was 22 years old).

2) The Phillies bullpen retired 10 of the 12 batters it faced against the Pirates, striking out five without issuing a walk. I wouldn't be suprised if the biggest difference between the Antonio Bastardo of this season and the one who often took the mound last season is confidence. His velocity isn't any better, and although his fastball looks to be moving a little bit better, he also looks a lot more comfortable pounding the zone with it, which is the strategy he used during his dominant 2011 campaign.

3) Jonathan Pettibone's fastball was the most impressive part of his game last night. It sat 90-92 MPH throughout his five-plus innings of work, and he was aggressive with it. The results -- two runs, no walks, six strikeouts -- are a testament to the good things that can happen when a pitcher trust's his fastball and throws strikes with it. Make them put a bat on the ball and the odds are already in your favor. On the other hand, the odds suggest that Pettibone will need to find the feel for at least one of his offspeed pitches in a hurry in order to continue to have success against major league hitters. The Pirates hit a number of balls right on the screws, as evidenced by their 10 fly ball to 5 ground ball ratio. Both of their runs came on home runs. Pettibone struggled to throw his changeup. Of his 83 pitches, only five prompted a swing-and-miss. I wouldn't read anything into Charlie Manuel's non-commital answer to Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury's question about whether Pettibone would get another start. Manuel has said the same thing after every young pitcher's debut. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Phillies send Pettibone back down with a taste of the big leagues and instructions to continue to develop his offspeed stuff. Either way, Pettibone handled himself very well in an unenviable situation against a hot team, and that's something to build on.

4) The Phillies are 9-11 and 1.5 games behind the Washington Nationals. The last time they were this close to the Nationals was April 12, 2012, when they were 3-3 and 1.5 games back (the Nationals were in first place then. Now, they are in third).

5) Ten of the 15 teams in the National League currently have a winning. It doesn't really mean anything, but I found it interesting, so deal with it.


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