Jarred Cosart believed he could make the Astros out of Spring Training, thinking he'd be able to carry the success he enjoyed in the Minor Leagues last year onto the game's biggest stage.
However, he struggled with command, walking six and allowing seven runs on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League action. The Astros optioned the right-hander to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where every start he makes is another chance to pad his resume on the road to the Majors.
"It's been my goal since day one," Cosart said. "I wanted to make it out of the spring, but I didn't pitch well enough for that to happen. I always set my expectations high, so hopefully I can be there soon. I want to help our teams get wins at the Major League level, and once I get there, I want to be there for good."
He added a major bullet point to that resume Tuesday night.
The Astros' No. 4 prospect tied a career high with 10 strikeouts over a season-high 5 2/3 shutout innings as Oklahoma City bested Tacoma, 6-1, at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
It was the third time the 22-year-old right-hander has hit double digits in strikeouts in five years in the Minor Leagues. He fanned 10 twice with Class A Lakewood during the 2010 season when he was in the Phillies organization. This latest occurrence, however, was a little more special since it came in the Minors' highest level.
"I felt like I had good command really from the get-go," said MLB.com's No. 84 overall prospect, who relied on his bread-and-butter fastball to rack up the strikeouts on Tuesday. "From bullpen to warmups to throughout the night, I seemed to have everything in control, and my catcher, Carlos Perez, deserves a lot of the credit for that, too. We had a great plan and got a couple of calls, which helps, too. But I was able to execute from the start, and that's always big."
Cosart struck out the side while working around Corey Patterson's single in the first inning. He allowed two more singles to start the second, but two more punchouts and a runner caught stealing ended that jam. The Texas native exited after two more strikeouts and a single by Mike Zunino in the sixth.
With the win, Cosart improved to 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA. He joins a group of five in the Pacific Coast League with four wins, while his ERA ranks sixth. He's also fourth with 39 strikeouts, and that may be the best barometer for his success going forward.
Despite a plus fastball that frequently touches the high 90s, Cosart hasn't been able to collect as many strikeouts as one might expect. Since averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, the statistic hasn't stood higher than its 7.2 level last season. It's at 10.6 through seven appearances this season.
"With my stuff, I don't think I've ever been a really big strikeout guy," Cosart said. "So if I'm racking up the strikeouts, it's a good sign that my command is on point and everything's going well."
Beyond the 10 strikeouts Tuesday night, Cosart -- who threw 61 of 101 pitches for strikes -- produced his longest outing of the season. That's certainly notable, given the Astros' plan to piggyback their starters at each Minor League level this season. However, after injuries and callups left holes in the Oklahoma City rotation, the parent club was forced to abandon the plan for its top affiliate.
Whether the piggybacking plan will return is unclear, but the organization's top pitching prospect is prepared for anything.
"They made it clear that they just want pitchers to go out there and do our job, which means get people out," he said. "I'm completely on board for whatever they have planned."
RedHawks second baseman Jake Elmore fell a homer shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. First baseman Brett Wallace hit his third homer in as many games and drove in three runs, while left fielder Marc Krauss added a solo blast.
Zunino finished 3-for-4 for the Rainiers, while Carlos Peguero slugged his fourth homer.