READING - Jesse Biddle's 16 strikeouts over seven one-hit innings last month in a game at Harrisburg went viral.
His 10 strikeouts in six one-hit innings the next time out at home against New Hampshire made the masses wonder whether the 21-year-old from Germantown Friends was close to being big-league ready.
A reality check followed for the gregarious double-A Reading lefthander, who is clearly on the right track but still a distance away from being prepared for games in the big South Philly ballpark where the Phillies play.
The first reminder of that came six days ago in Manchester, N.H., and it was harsh. After allowing just one run and six hits while compiling 34 strikeouts in his previous three games and 19 innings, Biddle failed to make it out of the first inning against the Fisher Cats, Toronto's double-A affiliate.
It was his third consecutive one-hit performance, but those kinds of things lose their luster when you record only two outs, walk four batters, and allow three runs. It was the briefest outing of his career, and perhaps the primary reason for it was revealed Thursday night after Biddle returned to the mound for a game at FirstEnergy Park.
"He's had some illness he's been battling a little bit," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said after his team's 5-4 loss to Cleveland's Akron affiliate. "It's been kind of running around the clubhouse, but he's never going to use that as an excuse."
Biddle admitted to fighting a bug that also was affecting Wathan and several of his Reading teammates, but that did not remove the sting he felt waiting to get back to the mound after his disaster in New Hampshire.
"The last time I went out to pitch, I had nothing," Biddle said. "I went out, I tried, I gave it everything I had, but it didn't work out so well. It was pretty horrible knowing that I left my team out to dry. That's a really tough one to sit on."
Dealing with periodic failure is one of the demons every minor-leaguer must conquer on the climb up the big-league ladder. Those who handle it best and bounce back the fastest are the most likely to reach the top of the ladder.
Still feeling a bit under the weather Thursday, Biddle did not return to the dominating form he flashed late last month, but he did look a lot more like the top-rated prospect in the organization. In five innings, he surrendered two runs on three hits, walked two, and struck out five. The breaking ball he snapped off for half of his 16 strikeouts against Harrisburg last month wasn't as sharp, and neither was the command of his fastball and change-up.
Good pitchers, however, fight through the nights when they do not have their best stuff, and that's what Biddle did against Akron.
"I thought he did a nice job of bouncing back," Wathan said. "He didn't have his best stuff, but he battled through five innings and left with a lead and did what a starting pitcher is supposed to do. I think only going two-thirds of an inning last time and him battling the stuff in his chest, five innings was good enough."
Strikeouts per nine innings: 11