Down to the cool springtime temperatures, Jesse Biddle is happy to be back in the Keystone State.
"I love it out here," said the Double-A Reading hurler and Pennsylvania native following a game in Harrisburg. "I think in the beginning, it was 53, but in the end it was like 46. For me, I don't think bats work as much then. But as long as I'm feeling comfortable and controlling everything the way I want, it's all great for me."
It's early yet in the 2013 season, but Biddle already has a case for what could be baseball's most dominant pitching performance of the year at any level after Monday's start in his home state.
The Phillies' top prospect struck out a career-high 16 and took a perfect game into the seventh inning in the Fightin Phils' 3-2 win over the Senators. He finished with one hit and two walks allowed in seven shutout innings and even went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a run scored at the plate.
"Tonight what I saw was maybe as dominant a start as I've seen in my career as a coach," said Reading pitching coach David Lundquist. "I mean, when you're talking command-wise and his overall stuff, that's probably as good as you're ever going to see at this or any level of the game."
Biddle differed slightly on the semantics, but still felt that he had thrown the best outing of his Minor League career, now in its fourth year.
"I don't like to use the word 'dominant' so much, but it's the most in control I've felt for sure," he said. "In control of my emotions, in control of my composure, in control of the baseball, all that stuff. It all starts with my delivery. If I can get that down, I can get the ball going where I want it too."
The 21-year-old left-hander struck out the side in the first inning and never looked back, repeating the feat in the fourth, sixth and seventh. He retired 19 in a row -- 14 on punchouts -- to start the contest before giving up a one-out, seven-pitch walk to Sean Nicol in the seventh. Destin Hood broke up the no-hitter one batter later when he singled on an 0-2 offering from Biddle. After a walk by Sandy Leon, the southpaw caught Randolph Oduber looking for his 16th strikeout of the night. He finished with 104 pitches, 74 for strikes.
The 16 punchouts broke a previous career high of 12, a number Biddle last reached on Aug. 17, 2012 in seven no-hit frames for Class A Advanced Clearwater. It marked the fourth time he reached double digits in the category since the Phillies selected him 27th overall in the 2010 Draft out of Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.
Of the 16 strikeouts, half came on a fastball, the other half came on his sweeping curveball. Those are the two pitches that have given Biddle the most success thus far in the Minors, although Lundquist added he saw the left-hander mix in sliders and changeups that he believed were both plus offerings.
"There was always a chance he could put together something like this, given his talent," said the pitching coach. "But with 16, that doesn't happen very often. We always say the hitters will tell us just how good the pitcher was, and they told us he was great tonight."
The real key to the start lied in the fact that Biddle, Lundquist and catcher Cameron Rupp did their homework heading into the game. The pitcher had faced the Senators in his most recent outing last Tuesday, allowing one run on four hits while striking out eight and walking four over six innings in the Phils' 4-3 10-inning win.
"For every batter, we had a different approach based on what we saw last time," Biddle said. "I was just trying to think about pitching to their biggest weakness and my biggest strength, and even with that, I was able to throw the ball exactly where I wanted. That obviously doesn't happen every night.
"I actually think that's part of why we have Minor League Baseball -- to find a best way to achieve success and repeat it again."
The 6-foot-3 hurler, who slimmed down due to a new diet and conditioning plan in the offseason, improved to 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his first four starts with Reading. He has struck out 30, walked nine and held batters to a .126 average over that span.
He's also done a little damage with the bat, highlighted by the two doubles Monday. Overall, he's 3-for-5 at the dish to start the year. But it was actually a previous run-in with Senators starter Paul Demny that kickstarted Biddle's own approach at the plate.
"The first time I pitched against him, I fell behind 2-0, got it back 2-2 and then threw him a good fastball up and out of the zone, and he whacked it for a flyout to the warning track," said the Reading starter. "That got me thinking, 'We don't have to be automatic outs.' I'm not going to try to hit home runs obviously, but I don't want to just roll over either. I want to be a tough out up there."
Whether it's on the mound or even at the plate, those around Biddle remain unsurprised at just exactly what he can do on a baseball diamond.
"He's a one-of-a-kind kid," said Lundquist. "He's fun to be around and fun to work with all the same."
Demny allowed three runs on five hits and one walk and struck out eight in his five innings on the mound as Senators starter Monday. He combined with reliever Matt Swynenberg (seven K's) to fan 15 Phils on the evening, just two fewer than Reading accrued.