Second Post for Spring Training 2015: Biddle Sharp But Still Optioned

Day 8 Bullpen. Throwing to Andrew Knapp.

Day 8 Bullpen. Throwing to Andrew Knapp.

Jesse Biddle has had a great spring training this year. His game was honed and razor sharp fairly quickly and he reported having quality bullpen sessions from the start. As the photo above shows, by the end of Week 2 the Phillies pitching brain trust was paying close attention to his side work. He got a fair amount of support with positive statements to the press by Ryne Sandburg, Bob McClure, Dan Plesac, and others.

More importantly, Jesse has been able to talk with catchers he’s been working with about his pitches as well as some of the hitters he’s thrown to in live batting sessions. Spring training is a weird contradiction, though. The basic idea is to get ready for the coming season. You need to try new
things, work on pitches, and practice your butt off. But for young players it’s also about proving themselves to decision makers, coaches, and major league players. Last year wasn’t easy for Jesse. He was operating with an injured left index finger, plus it was his first camp. This year has been different. He got to work on a lot of stuff fully healthy and primed for quality pitching. But he also came into camp knowing what to expect.

His first outing came on Saturday, March 7. The numbers didn’t look great with 3 hits, a walk, 2 runs, and one strikeout. However, the ball was coming out of his hand like butter. And his pitches crossed the plate with late life and electricity. As they say, his stuff was good. Fastballs all registered 93-94, and his slider and curve had extra zing on them. He was up in the zone, though, for the most part. He threw 29 pitches. Far too many for one inning. But that’s what you’d expect for a first outing when the last time you pitched “healthy” was back in May the year before.

Jesse was fine with his outing regardless of what anyone else thought. He reported via text: “I felt great.” The headline in The Inquirer for the little blurb they ran on him the next day was “Biddle: What, Me Worry?” He knew he needed to throw more strikes and that the ball was down in the zone. But he also knew that he was amped up a bit too much and overly enthusiastic.

The next outing would be quite different six days later against the Tampa Rays. Jesse came in to start the 4th against all-star thirdbaseman Evan Longoria and had him out of the way in three pitches. He would need just five more pitches to finish off the next two hitters, John Jaso and Steven DeSouza. An eight pitch inning isn’t a three pitch inning, but it’s pretty good.

Jess has had a good camp getting to know Carlos Ruiz (among others) and understood that Carlos was in charge from the first pitch on. They were working on a couple of things. Jesse only threw one curveball. Mostly, when Carlos wanted a breaking ball or out pitch he asked for Jesse’s slider. That pitch has gotten pretty interesting. He’s throwing it with good command at 88-89 mph.

The sweet part of his outing on Friday was in between stints on the mound. In the bottom of the 4th Chase Utley laced a single up the middle, and then on the first pitch he saw from 26-year-old righty Chris Archer, Ryan Howard jacked his first home run of the season over the right field fence. That’s a pretty great thing, to have two of the stars you grew up with put you out in front to start your next inning.

The 5th would be a perfect opportunity for Jesse to test himself. The first two batters got on with seeing-eye singles. He had two on and no outs. But induced a foul ball pop out, a ground ball to second, and then struck out the last batter on three pitches, the final one being an 89 mph slider he buried in Chooch’s mitt. From start to finish, Jesse was in command. His confidence has been high all spring training. Those two innings were vindication and proof that hard work pays off. He left the game up 2-1 after the 5th.

We can all agree that the Phillies’ bullpen is the real deal again this year. They backed up those two runs with four scoreless innings, including a money save by Justin De Fratus in the 9th, striking out the side. We think Jesse’s got a lot to look forward to when he finally gets the call up (whenever that is). Oh, and yes, he got the win. He’s officially 2-0 in career spring training outings now.

Here’s his post-game interview:

Success is fleeting in baseball, though. Jesse was optioned to the minor leagues Monday (today) morning. He pitches against the Pirates minor league group in Bradenton on Wednesday afternoon at 1:00. He’s fine with being optioned and expected it. It’s just a matter of staying constant now. Everything is geared up for a quality season wherever the front office decides he needs to go next. Could be Reading, could be Lehigh Valley. All that matters is that he keeps getting innings and continues to refine his tools.

We’ve heard a lot of players talk about how much they love spring training this March. As fans of the game, anyone who spends a warm week in Florida or Arizona watching their favorite players and all the young guys they may not know yet, there’s no question that March baseball is a most special time of the season (maybe October, for the lucky few, is the only better time). The regular season gets underway in about three weeks. Hope you’re ready.

See you out there.

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