Less than 24 hours after completing a career-high eight innings last Saturday
in Charlotte, Class A Advanced Clearwater's Jesse Biddle couldn't remember which two of his eight strikeout victims whiffed on his new pitch. Or, out of respect for the Stone Crabs hitters, he simply wasn't saying.
No names, no matter. What Biddle did recall was a feeling, a feeling of greater potential within himself. Fanning a pair on a slider that is only three weeks in the works will do that to a hurler. Even this hurler, already the Phillies' No. 2 -- and baseball's No. 65 -- prospect.
"We work on it every bullpen," he said of recent sessions supervised by Threshers coach David Lundquist. "I just throw a couple of them.
"When the curveball is not working [in a game], I can have the slider. When the slider is not working, I have the curveball."
Before incorporating -- or restoring, as you'll soon find out -- his second breaking pitch, Biddle was doing just fine with his fastball-curve-changeup mix. The 20-year-old left-hander fanned a career-high 12 on June 3 immediately following a six-start May in which he compiled 1.36 ERA. He also ranks second among Florida State League starters with 104 strikeouts in 101 innings.
Is Biddle done adding on? "I'm working on a knuckleball, but that's in the distance," he said under his deep laugh. "I'm trying to be like R.A. Dickey."
MiLB.com asked the non-knuckling Biddle to describe and evaluate each of the four pitches he is employing. (He politely declined to grade himself using a scout's traditional 20-80 scale.) Here is Biddle in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: That's the first pitch every kid should learn how to throw. It's the most important one. At Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, I usually just threw that until hitters started hitting it and then I changed it up. The biggest thing as a pitcher -- at least what the Phillies preach -- is fastball command first and foremost. If you don't have that, you're not going to be successful.
Purpose: I probably throw 75 percent fastballs in a game and I don't try to fool anybody, just get quick outs. It's my go-to in any count, and I feel comfortable throwing it.
Grip: Regular, across the seams.
Speed: 90-93 mph.
Evaluation: It's my best pitch. I'd like to improve the velocity and command of it, but command first. Velocity is nice, but if you're going to throw 95 mph down the middle, it's not going to be effective.
Pitch two: Changeup
: That's been quite a journey, learning the changeup. I have probably gone through 10 different grips. I didn't throw it a lot in high school, didn't really need it early on. I was pretty much fastball-curveball. But now that I've been in pro ball, I realize that I do need it. What I've noticed in Minor League Baseball is that the guy who has a good changeup is hard to hit.
Purpose: I need it to off-set the fastball and keep 'em off balance with my other pitches. It's also a good way to get quick outs. I can throw it over for a strike early in the count and get somebody to roll over or pop up.
Grip: I hold it as a four-seam, but I split my pointer finger and my middle finger pretty far apart. It's a little bit of an off-set grip. I made it up. No one showed me it. I was constantly playing around with it -- asking coaches, asking different players who had good changeups, what their grips were -- but nothing was really working for me. So during my first start in Spring Training, I was in the bullpen warming up before I was going to go out to the mound, and I just came up with it and threw four of them for strikes in a row. I was like, "Alright, I guess I'm going to try this one."
Speed: 76-78 mph.
Evaluation: It's by far the pitch I have developed the most. Every outing, I feel like getting more comfortable with it, because I haven't thrown it as long as my other pitches. I have a long way to go with it, obviously. I don't quite feel comfortable throwing it in 2-0 counts yet, but it has come long way.
Pitch three: Curveball
: I learned it when I was 14, and I just felt really comfortable throwing the 12-to-6. I have always felt like I had a pretty good sense of how to break it and how to spin it. My coach taught me when I was younger to spin a softball or spin two baseballs taped together, that was the way I learned my curveball. I don't twist my wrist or anything. But, when I was in high school, a lot of the scouts told me it wasn't going to be good enough to get me drafted -- they told me it was too slow -- so I stopped throwing it. I started throwing a slider at the end of my senior year, but then I went to pro ball and the Phillies liked my curveball, so I have been throwing it ever since.
Purpose: Sometimes I feel really comfortable with it, and I am able to throw it in early in the count for a strike. Late in the count, to strike 'em out. That's become my go-to strikeout pitch this whole year.
Grip: Traditional curveball.
Speed: 72-74 mph. It was about 68 mph in high school, so it's a little bit faster right now, but it's not about velocity with that pitch. It's about getting it to start at different points and learning how to control where it's going to end up. If I don't throw it above the knees, it doesn't matter how fast it is.
Evaluation: It's gotten better. Every good outing I've had, I've been able to throw my curveball for a strike. That's been a key to keeping hitters off balance. When they see it in the zone early in the game, that means that I can throw it out of the zone later and they're going to swing. But if I am constantly throwing it for a ball, they're never going to swing at it.
Pitch four: Slider
: I've thrown it my last two starts, which is nice because it helps me maintain my arm speed. Sometimes I'll slow my body down when I want to throw my curveball, but when I'm throwing my slider I have to speed my body up. It maintains arm-speed throughout all my off-speed pitches, and that's been really helping me.
Purpose: I'm not allowed to throw very many of them -- five or six a game -- because I've only been working on it for a little bit. I got my two strikeouts on it Saturday.
Grip: Where the label is, my index and middle fingers cut across the label of the baseball diagonally.
Speed: 82-84 mph. Because my curveball is a lot slower than my fastball, this is a nice in-between and has a different break.
Evaluation: I think it's a strong addition to my repertoire. It's only been helping me so far.