Rangers prospect Cody Buckel is getting ahead by getting ahead.
Buckel struck out nine and held Double-A Midland to a pair of hits over five innings in one of his best Texas League starts this season Monday afternoon, but Frisco fell in the 10th inning of a 2-1 loss.
Texas' No. 4 right-handed prospect threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 16 batters he faced in turning in his highest strikeout total at the Double-A level. A late rally by the RockHounds, though, kept the righty from picking up his fourth win since Aug. 8.
"I had everything working, I was getting ahead in the count," Buckel said. "If I went behind 1-0, I just went back with a strike, and that's the most crucial thing I noticed in making the jump to Double-A. You'll be better off if you can get ahead, and that's a huge thing for me."
Buckel, 20, struck out two batters in each of the first three innings while allowing a pair of singles -- Beau Taylor lined a two-out base hit in the second and Jeremy Barfield was erased on a double play after his one-out single in the fourth.
"[Taylor] kept fouling it off, I got in on him a little, and he put it in a good spot in left field," Buckel said of the second-inning single. "It wasn't a terrible pitch, it wasn't my best pitch, but it wasn't the best of contact. It didn't bother me too much."
The Frisco starter then worked a 1-2-3 fifth, striking out Taylor and Leonardo Gil swinging to end his day with 78 pitches, 58 for strikes.
Midland pulled ahead in the 10th when Taylor singled, advanced to third on a wild pitch and a single and scored on a fielder's choice.
Most of Buckel's first pitches were strikes, but as he got through the lineup again, he said he broke out some off-speed stuff.
"I'm mixing in mostly fastball-slider on first pitches, a couple guys put some good hacks on the fastball, so I started started mixing in curveballs in the count," he said. "It kept them off-balance."
Since Aug. 13, Buckel has been doing that a lot as the RoughRiders head into the playoffs. He's held opponents in four starts to a pair of earned runs and 14 hits with 26 strikeouts over 21 2/3 innings.
"It's great momentum for the team. We're all pitching well and starting to win a lot more games in the last month," said Buckel, who has 34 strikeouts in his last 31 2/3 innings. "We've got more momentum going into the playoffs now that we're playing well, we're hitting well and we're fielding well."
And for Buckel, the transition to the Texas League has been pretty smooth. He was dominant with the Pelicans, going 5-3 with a 1.31 ERA in 13 starts, and while he's endured a few rough outings at Frisco -- he's 5-5 with a 3.78 ERA in 13 outings -- his season overall has gone as planned thanks to his strike-throwing abilities.
"Just being able to locate four or five pitches in the zone and being able to throw them for strikes behind in the count," he said. "In Double-A, I've had to do that a little more, be a little more precise and I've kind of figured that out the last few starts."
The California native set a season high with 11 strikeouts on May 17 for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach -- he also struck out nine on two occasions in the Carolina League before his promotion following a win on June 12.
Monday's game was Frisco's final regular season contest before taking on Corpus Christi in the postseason. Buckel said he's in line to start Game 4 or 5 of that semifinals series.
"We're just as good as any other teams, and we just took three of four from Corpus Christi," he said. "We have the first two games at home, so that's pretty nice. We play a little better at home and we have good momentum coming off the series win against them."