Missions pitcher Bubba Derby liked almost everything about his day on Sunday.
In fact, it was nearly perfect, except for the nagging feeling that, just maybe, he could have worked a little deeper into the game.
But he will gladly take the big-picture result.
Derby completed five scoreless innings to highlight the team's 13th shutout of the season in an 8-0 Pacific Coast League victory over the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
A crowd of 5,233 watched as Derby (6-7) held the Cakes to three hits and struck out six.
"I think I could have kept going, but I understand how the game works, and what the coaches are trying to do out there," he said. "Late in the season (coaches) are trying to get guys their opportunities.
"You know, it's a close race. I don't know if Round Rock won or lost tonight, but if it works out the way it looks, we can gain a game on them … so, yeah, I'm very happy about how it went."
After a precipitous fall in the first few weeks of August, the Missions did indeed pick up a game on the Express, who lost 14-11 at home to the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
So, as the Missions embark on a four-game trip to Iowa starting Monday night, they trail the Express by 1 and ½ games in the American Southern Division.
The Express have 16 to play and the Missions 15.
"We got a lot of games left," Missions manager Rick Sweet said. "But it is nice to be in the hunt."
On July 17 and 18, Sweet's team was up by five, its largest lead of the summer.
The Missions appeared to be well on their way to the division crown, which comes with a berth in the PCL playoffs.
But by the end of July, the lead had dwindled to 3 and ½ games. Last Tuesday night, the Express moved ahead by a half game.
Now, Round Rock is up 1 and ½ by virtue of an 11-5 record in August, compared with 6-10 for San Antonio.
At the very least, the Missions have stabilized in the past few days.
They broke an 8-game losing streak with a 5-4, 13-inning victory on Saturday, and then followed Sunday with their best offensive performance at home in two weeks.
Newcomer Tyler Austin led a 10-hit attack with double and a home run in a 2-for-4 showing.
Hard-luck Corey Ray also had two hits, including a double that he smoked into the wind in straightaway center.
"This feels good," Ray said. "Throughout parts of the season, you win some, and you go through stretches that you lose some. Hopefully these two wins means that the losing streak is over."
The win was significant in a number of areas.
First, it gave the Missions a 2-2 split in a series against a team with a winning record. Next, it boosted them into a road series against the Cubs, who lead the Pacific Northern Division.
But, perhaps most importantly, it showed that the Missions can win even when some of their top players are not on the field.
Derby started in place of Aaron Wilkerson, who was called up to the Brewers. Also, among position players, Cory Spangenberg, Tyler Saladino and Travis Shaw did not play.
In their absence, others stepped to the front.
Austin, in his third game with the team since signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, continued to show he can hit for power.
His home run in the fourth inning off Cody Poteet traveled all the way to the top of the berm in left field.
Austin has hit a homer and two doubles in his two starts for the Missions. In his first plate appearance a pinch hitter on Friday night, he nearly hit the ball out of the park to the opposite field.
"His at-bats are really good," Ray said. "You can tell he knows what he's doing at the plate. He's got a good approach and he's putting a barrel on the baseball. I think that's the giddy-up that we needed. He could be a spark-plug to turn this thing around."
The Brewers are also happy to see some spark in Ray, who has battled through a right middle finger injury all season.
Ray, who is a modest 3 for 6 in his last two games with 4 RBI, said he thinks he may be turning the corner because he's just being consistent with his work.
"With the amount of time I've missed this year, it's tough to get it back going," he said. "Now, I'm starting to see more pitches. I'm starting to get my feet under me. We'll see if I can get this thing rolling here."
Derby, in his third season in Triple-A with the Brewers organization, said he knew late Saturday night that he might get the start.
He was prepared, and it showed, as he frustrated a Baby Cakes team that had won four straight and nine of 12 through Friday night.
"At the end of the day, you got to be ready to pitch whenever they give you the ball," he said. "Your job isn't just pitching. But it's making sure on the days you're not pitching you're doing enough recovery in your workouts to make sure you are ready when the day comes."
American Southern Division - Round Rock 75-49, San Antonio 74-51, New Orleans 67-56, Oklahoma City 58-66.
American Northern Division - Iowa 66-59, Memphis 59-66, Nashville 56-67, Omaha 53-72.
Note: Teams play a 140-game schedule through Sept. 2. The winners of the American Southern and American Northern divisions will meet in the first round of the playoffs. The other series will match the Pacific Southern against the Pacific Northern. Winners of the two divisional series will advance to the PCL title series. Both are best of five.
Pitchers Aaron Wilkerson and Jay Jackson were recalled to the Brewers on Sunday. In an accompanying move, Freddy Peralta and Ray Black have been optioned back to the Missions. Sweet said Peralta will meet the team Monday and Black on Tuesday in Iowa.
Game 1 matchup
In Game 1 at Iowa, Trey Supak (1-1, 9.50) will face all-star and former Mission Colin Rea (12-3, 3.50).
Sweet said Cory Spangenberg will be back with the Missions on Monday after two days away from the squad.
The Milwaukee Brewers summoned him to Washington, D.C., on Saturday night and planned to activate him for Sunday's game with the Nationals. But, Sweet said, the plans changed and Spangenberg was sent back to Triple-A.
He was scheduled to fly out of Washington to Des Moines, Iowa, to meet the team for its road series against the Iowa Cubs.
Bubba Derby lowered his earned run average to 4.82 which ranks eighth in the PCL. He also doubled in a run in a five-run first inning, chopping a ball down the third-base line off New Orleans starter Cody Poteet.
The Missions' bullpen has been effective lately against New Orleans, holding the Baby Cakes without a run for 13 straight innings over the past three games.
Miguel Sanchez was the only Missions reliever to get roughed up in the series. He yielded three runs without retiring a batter in a 4-2 loss Friday. But he bounced back Sunday with 1 and 2/3 scoreless innings.
Batting title race
With a .386 average, catcher David Freitas trails only Ty France of El Paso (.399) in a race for the batting title. Freitas is also tied for third in the league in OPS with a 1.039.
Freitas punched a single through the infield in the eighth inning against New Orleans, extending consecutive-game streaks for on base (28) and hitting (13). His streak of games with an RBI ended at eight.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.