After Jesse Biddle recorded a career-high 16 strikeouts against Harrisburg on April 22, Reading pitching coach David Lundquist shared one of his philosophies on evaluating pitchers.
"We always say the hitters will tell us how good the pitcher was," he told MiLB.com.
That being the case, Eastern League batters are telling Lundquist quite a bit about the top Phillies prospect these days.
Biddle followed up the exceptional outing with another gem Sunday, striking out 10 and allowing one hit over six shutout innings as Reading beat New Hampshire, 2-1, in 12 innings.
The 21-year-old fanned the side to begin the April 22 contest, but began Sunday's start in a more dubious fashion. His first two pitches to leadoff man Kevin Pillar skipped in the dirt, and the third sailed high of the strike zone.
"What I did was I got too comfortable early and didn't get everything I needed to out of the bullpen before the game," said Biddle, ranked 60th on MLB.com's Top 100.
Pillar drew a walk, but Biddle induced a double-play ground ball from John Tolisano, then struck out Ryan Schimpf to end the first. The hurler continued to labor, allowing a walk to begin the second and a single to Jack Murphy and a walk to begin the third.
"It was a battle through those innings," Biddle said. "I was behind in the count a lot. I think [catcher Cameron] Rupp did a good job helping me work through those innings, throwing my curve for strikes to get outs.
"Once I got through that, I knew if I didn't start throwing more strikes, I'd get hurt by giving up some hits and wouldn't be able to pitch deep into the game."
With Lundquist's assistance, the left-hander managed to corral his fastball command in time for the fourth. The Fisher Cats went down in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, with Biddle striking out the side in the fifth.
"I felt unbelievable in the bullpen, probably too good," he said. "I wasn't focusing on what I needed to do to maintain feeling that way. I felt good and thought it would carry over. … I didn't get there, but I was able to figure it out."
Biddle's start this season is among the best in the Minor Leagues. The southpaw had one rocky outing against Portland on April 10, but otherwise, he's allowed one run or fewer in every start. He's compiled 40 strikeouts while walking 12 over 31 innings. He's allowed 11 hits allowed and boasts a 2-1 record.
The start's particularly encouraging because Biddle's past Aprils have all been disappointing. Last April, he posted an 0-2 record with a 5.71 ERA. The year before, he went 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA.
"[The difference is] being a year older, having another year of Spring Training and having another offseason to figure out where I need to be to not come out of the gate slow like I have in the last few years," he said. "My coaches, I think, are a little more aware that I've had bad Aprils in the past, and they've really been on top of me, making sure that I'm changing it up a little bit.
"I'm pitching a little differently, a little more aggressively, but it's also a matter of me finding my mechanics earlier in the season. Part of it is just luck. Sometimes you don't do anything different but you just feel a little better. It's all about preparation, and I think I prepared better this year than in the past."
That offseason program, which included a new diet and conditioning program that helped Biddle slim down, has him throwing the best of his career. His fastball command, save for the first three innings Sunday, has been good. His curveball is a go-to offering, his changeup has improved and his slider, which he began throwing last year, has become a very usable pitch.
All of those things have helped him log at least six innings in each of his first five outings, the longest such streak of his career.
"You never really want to come out of the gate slow," Biddle said. "Never want to have a bad first inning, but to be able to continue to get stronger and stronger as the game goes on is what starting pitching is all about. I take pride in that and try to focus in during the fifth, sixth, seventh innings.
"You need more focus then than you do in the early innings. That third time through the order, you have to locate and mix your pitches and you have to be stronger than you were in the beginning. That's what starting pitching is about, trying to keep getting better."
Biddle left with the game still scoreless, and it remained that way into the 12th. Pillar's single in the top of the frame drove in Kevin Ahrens to put New Hampshire up, 1-0, but when Murphy tried following Ahrens home, he was thrown out by right fielder Anthony Hewitt to end the frame.
In the bottom of the 12th, Zach Collier led off with a single and Jim Murphy followed with a walk. Following Tyler Henson's successful sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Rupp, Sebastian Valle drew a bases-loaded free pass to plate Reading's first run of the game. Fisher Cats pitcher Tommy Hottovy (0-1) hit Miguel Abreu with a pitch to force in the winning run.
"That was something else, a bizarre game," Biddle said. "To have a walk-off hit batter was one of the weirder things I've seen in a while.
"We all kind of clapped our hands and said, 'Good job us.' We didn't know how to approach running onto the field. Usually, with a walk-off, we'll dog-pile and all that stuff. We couldn't really do that."