Cody Buckel is running out of things to work on in the Carolina League. But if he's being picky, one of his five pitches needs further development.
"My main focus is the changeup," he said. "It's there, it's there, and then I'm losing it again."
The Rangers' No. 11 prospect eventually found his off-speed offering Friday afternoon and, with it in tow, completed seven shutout innings in the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans' 4-0 shutout of the host Frederick Keys.
"I had all my pitches when my changeup came late," Buckel said. "I was trying to do too much, trying to slow it down too much, trying to slow it down with my body. [Then] I let the grip do the work."
Buckel (3-1), who has credited his early 2012 success in part to his friendship and offseason work with D-backs No. 1 prospect Trevor Bauer, scattered three singles -- to Bobby Stevens in the first inning, to Aaron Baker in the sixth and Kipp Schutz in the seventh -- and walked three while striking out eight. He recorded 10 outs on the ground.
"The cutter I have been using, it had some good biting action," the 19-year-old right-hander said. "It got on some bat handles. Guys aren't doing much with it."
Buckel said he threw 94 pitches and expects to be held in the vicinity of 90 throughout his season. That's all he's needed thus far in 2012 anyway. Texas' second-round draftee in 2010, enjoyed his best previous outing this season on April 12, when he struck out nine over six, two-hit scoreless frames opposite Potomac.
His 1.31 ERA through six outings is tied for first with Frederick's Richard Zagone among active Carolina League starters. Winston-Salem's Andre Rienzo compiled a 1.08 mark through four outings before he was suspended for 50 games.
Buckel is alone at the top in strikeouts: He has fanned 41 batters over his first 34 1/3 innings.
"I aim for weak contact," Buckel said, "and when you aim for weak contact, you're going to get a lot of swings and misses."
Buckel's lone reliever, Ben Henry, yielded a single and issued two free passes but kept the shutout intact. (Henry is a member of the "Birds' Nest," a nickname given to the oft-Tweeting bullpen.)
Myrtle Beach designated hitter Jared Hoying led the lineup. He smacked a solo home run off Keys starter Kyle Simon in the fifth, went 3-for-3 overall and fell a triple shy of cycling.
Hoying, the 2010 Northwest League MVP, left Buckel's last start diving for a ball and landing awkwardly on his shoulder.
"I felt bad for pushing him out of that game, and today he helps me," Buckel said. "I really appreciate what he did for me today. He looks pretty strong."
Simon (0-5) allowed all four runs on seven hits over five innings.
The Pelicans have won consecutive games after dropping four straight.