Jake Buchanan's plan sounds simple: "Keep the ball down. Be the ground-ball guy. Sink it. Cut it. Get people out with three pitches."
Nobody can argue with the results.
Buchanan made his fifth consecutive scoreless appearance Friday night, allowing five hits over five innings as the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks posted a 1-0 road win over Midland Rockhounds.
The Astros prospect has not given up a run in his last 24 1/3 innings of work. That stretch has lowered his ERA to a Texas League-leading ERA to 0.93. A year ago, he was 5-9 with a 4.96 ERA in 27 games, including 19 starts, for the Hooks.
"The difference for me between last year and this year is last year when I got into jams, I'd end up giving up runs," Buchanan said. "This year, I've been able to work out of them and count on my defense, too. It's been big for me and been good for my confidence, too, which has helped me pitch even better."
Buchanan (4-0) is part of a Corpus Christi pitching staff that's thrown a league-leading seven shutouts, one behind the Southern League's Mississippi Braves for tops in Double-A. The Hooks rely on a piggyback pitching system in which starters go four or five innings, then make a relief appearance a few days later before starting again. Buchanan pitched into the ninth once for Corpus Christi last year and has gone seven innings several times as a pro. But he has no complaints about the Astros' unorthodox strategy.
"Yeah, it been a little different. It's benefited me a lot," the 23-year-old right-hander said. "If you know you just have to go five innings when you start, that lets you give it everything you've got. I say, 'All right, I just have to try to get 15 outs here.' If that's all you have to do, it makes it a bit easier.
"Some days you have your good stuff and you feel like you have it in you to go seven or eight and have a real good outing," he added. "But it's kind of nice. If you're doing good, you don't have to face the lineup more than two times. That's obviously helpful to you as a pitcher."
Also helpful has been Buchanan's stellar command this season. He's issued only three walks in 43 1/3 innings.
"Being able to keep people off the basepaths, that's big," he said. "Working ahead, throwing out of the stretch, not having to worry about runners ... these things are huge."
Buchanan gave up a two-out single in the first inning Friday, but his scoreless streak wasn't threatened until the second. Dusty Coleman led off with a single and stole second with A's No. 17 prospect Beau Taylor at the dish. Taylor walked on seven pitches, but Buchanan struck out Miles Head -- Oakland's No. 5 prospect -- before uncorking a wild pitch.
"It was a cutter and I choked it," Buchanan said. "Rene [Garcia] blocked it pretty good, though."
Garcia's block was good enough to keep Taylor at first, but Coleman took third.
"Got myself into a jam there," Buchanan said.
Darwin Perez smacked a 2-2 offering directly at third baseman Jonathan Meyer, who caught the liner and threw to first to double up Taylor.
"That was big-time," said Buchanan, who's allowed one run in his last 34 1/3 frames. "The guy hit the ball hard. If it was in the hole, the run would have scored. I got lucky. They say it's better to be lucky than good, and I guess I have to agree. I've had great luck down the stretch and my defense -- my third baseman, my shortstop, everybody -- has been awesome."
Meyer was crucial to Buchanan's success in the third after Chad Oberacker laced a one-out triple.
"Johnny, my third baseman, said, 'Hey, give me a ground ball. Give me a ground ball and we'll be out of it,'" said Buchanan.
D'Arby Myers followed the script, fouling off the first pitch before dribbling the next to Meyer, who held Oberacker and threw out Myers. With two down, Buchanan faced Anthony Aliotti, the league's leading hitter at .362. It took him one pitch to end the inning with a grounder to first.
"I ran it in on him," Buchanan said, "and he rolled over on it."
He plowed through the fourth, striking out the side on 12 pitches.
"I wanted to have an easy inning after the last two with runners on," the North Carolina State product said. "I started throwing the changeup there, tried to go right at them. I might have threw one [changeup] to a lefty [before] and I bounced it. It wasn't good. I don't think they were expecting to see it then, in the fourth, so I kept them off-balance with that."
Buchanan gave up a leadoff single in the fifth to Head, who advanced on Perez's sacrifice. Tyler Ladendorf followed with a single to center, but Head held at third, Oberacker struck out and Myers hit a liner right back at Buchanan.
The Hooks bullpen combined to strike out two and limit the Rockhounds to two hits and a walk the rest of the way.
"The relievers, they've all been sharp," Buchanan said. "They did a heck of a job tonight. Our whole bullpen has been awesome this year."
Buchanan has made four relief appearances himself. Is he part of that "awesome" bullpen?
"Right, that piggyback thing," he said. "It's been fun. I enjoy both starting and relieving. It's pretty much the same game. You come in, you try to get guys out."
In addition to strong pitching, Corpus Christi leads the league with 41 homers and ranks second with 74 doubles. George Springer, the Astros' No. 3 prospect, leads all Minor Leaguers with 13 homers.
"When Springer comes up, he can hit a home run anytime," Buchanan said. "That's great for our team."
Springer was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles Friday, while Astros No. 16 prospect Max Stassi chipped in two hits, including an RBI double.
As for Buchanan, he's keeping his goals simple.
"Just trying to get better every day," he said. "Don't throw any days away. Keep the ball down and get guys out."