Dan Reynolds came into Monday's start struggling for form and looking for answers. For the first time in a long time, the Angels pitching prospect found both.
Reynolds allowed two hits and a pair of walks while tying a career best with seven strikeouts over a season-high eight innings in the Class A Advanced Inland Empire 66ers' 3-0 win over the visiting Stockton Ports.
"It's frustrating going out there, feeling confident and having conviction with every pitch and then then getting hit," Reynolds said. "But tonight feels good. It gets the monkey off my back because it has been a bit of a struggle."
Reynolds set the side down in order in the first inning and he worked around two free passes in the second. B.A. Vollmuth picked up the first hit of the night off him with a two-out double to center field in the top of the fourth, but Reynolds retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.
Selected by the Angels in the sixth round of the 2009 Draft out of Durango High School in Nevada, Reynolds (5-7) lowered his ERA to 5.67.
"I was working on a new changeup grip and it felt comfortable today," Reynolds said. "I was able to use it in some good aggressive counts that were favorable to hitters. I threw my slider any time, 3-2, 1-0, I had pretty good command of my fastball and I had great defense behind me."
The variation on the offspeed pitch might seem minor, but he has already found success with it despite its recent introduction in side sessions and bullpens over the weekend. Instead of holding it like a traditional four-seam circle changeup with the horseshoe facing the left side, he rotates the ball so the seams face left.
"The one I was using wasn't too effective," he said. "I've had a mediocre changeup to say the least and ... it has been a major issue this year. I had no confidence in it and the hitters would X out that pitch and just sit on my fastball and tee off on it.
"Hitters would spin on [the changeup], so I flipped the ball over. I have more confidence in this now and I can throw it without having any doubts. It has a bit of a run and I am able to throw it for strikes."
The 22-year-old entered Monday's start with a 4-7 record and a 6.44 ERA. He had lost each of his past five starts, including a game in High Desert on May 15 when he gave up 10 runs over five innings and his most recent outing on the road in Rancho Cucamonga where he yielded eight runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Reynolds has only pitched more than six innings once in 11 starts this year, and he had surrendered at least two runs in every game before Monday's gem.
He had uncorked more wild pitches (seven) and balked more times (five) than he had induced double-play balls (four) and his opponents were hitting a robust .276 when he was on the mound. He also hit three batters and allowed at least one homer in six of his first seven appearances.
Reynolds appeared in four games for Rookie-level Orem in 2010 after missing the 2009 season to injury. He was then limited to 20 Pioneer League games with the Owlz in 2011 after serving a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program a second time.
Between two levels last year, Reynolds was 2-6 with a 3.89 ERA and 60 strikeouts over 85 2/3 innings.
On Monday, Reynolds fell three out shy of matching the longest he had pitched into a game. He also fell three short of his first complete-game shutout.
Reynolds is credited for one complete game in his career, achieved in a 3-2 loss to Class A Quad Cities last June 29 in which he gave up three runs over 4 1/3 innings before the game was halted once the go-ahead run came home to score with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
"I tried to get them to let me go out for the ninth inning, but they said I had reached my limit," Reynolds said. "I would still say this is my best start as a professional."