Buckel, Pelicans prevail in pitching duel

Rangers prospect sets career highs with 11 K's in eight frames

By David Heck / Special to MLB.com | May 17, 2012 8:20 PM ET

Cody Buckel pitched the best game of his career Thursday, but still ended up without a decision. Why? Because Matthew Heidenreich matched him with his own best outing.

Buckel, the Rangers' No. 11 prospect, allowed just two hits over a career-high eight scoreless innings, but Heidenreich posted eight shutout frames of his own. It took until the 13th for one team to finally score as the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans outlasted the Winston-Salem Dash, 3-0.

Buckel fanned a career-high 11, walking only one. On the year, he ranks first in the Carolina League with 59 strikeouts and a 1.14 ERA.

"It was one of those nights I had everything," said Buckel, who was selected in the second round of the 2010 Draft. "I was placing the the fastball, my changeup that hasn't been there was there tonight a lot. That's a really big deal for me to get the changeup over. I had a good curveball, good slider, good cutter. It was one of those nights I had everything going and felt confident throwing any pitch in any count."

The 19-year-old right-hander gave up his first hit in the second, a two-out double to Michael Blanke. The next Dash base knock did not come until the eighth, when Nick Ciolli hit a two-out single. In between those two batters, Buckel set down 18 of the 20 while allowing just three balls out of the infield.

"The pitching tactic that I go to is to try to get a lot of weak contact," Buckel said. "When I pitch like that, I get a lot of foul balls, two-strike counts and swings-and-misses. I'm not necessarily trying to strike people out, I'm just trying to get weak contact -- a rollover ground ball to second base, a rollover to third base."

The two batters who reached base during that stretch were Michael Earley, who walked in the fifth, and Trayce Thompson, who got aboard after a fielding error by right fielder Josh Richmond in the seventh. Richmond made up for the miscue later in the inning, however, when he threw out Thompson trying to take home on a flyout by Brady Shoemaker.

"That was huge," Buckel said. "I threw a bad pitch, it was a high cutter. Shoemaker hit a pretty good line drive out to right. Richmond had a good running start, caught it chest-high and threw home. Getting out of that with no runs, that was huge for us. It amped me up and our whole team was ready to go after that."

On the other side, Heidenreich was tossing a no-hitter until Richmond broke it up with one-out single in the sixth. The Pelicans recorded only two more hits against the 21-year-old righty, who went eight innings for the second time this season. His first eight-inning effort also came against Myrtle Beach, as he surrendered two runs in a complete-game loss on April 16.

Overall, the two starters combined to throw nine 1-2-3 frames on the night. Including extra innings, the Pelicans and Dash went down in order on 11 occasions and struck out a combined 27 times.

"You don't want to be the first pitcher to give in, the first pitcher to give up that run and lose that momentum for your team," Buckel said. "When you see another pitcher doing that, you have to step it up as well. Our team wasn't swinging the bat too well and their team wasn't swinging the bat too well. [Heidenreich] goes out there and throws up a zero, I have to throw up a zero."

Myrtle Beach finally broke through in the top of the 13th, scoring three runs on two hits and two walks. Odubel Herrera came through with the first RBI hit of the night, singling to center field to score Santiago Chirino. Richmond later scored on a fielding error by second baseman Daniel Wagner, while Tomas Telis drove home Herrera for the final run.

J.R. Ballinger (0-1) took the loss after surrendering all three runs in his only inning. Excluding him, the two teams' bullpens combined to allow seven hits over nine scoreless innings.

Though Buckel was not rewarded with a win for his strong start, he said he wasn't worried about that and was just nervous for his team during the extra innings. As for a promotion to the next level, he's not too worried about that either.

"That's out of my hands," he said. "Obviously I'd want to get up the ladder as soon as I can, but that's up to the Rangers organization to decide if I'm ready to go up or if they need to see more out of me here. Every day's a new day, I just need to do what I do no matter where I am."

David Heck is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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