Through his first eight starts of the season, left-hander Ismael Guillon's white whale was merely finishing the fifth inning.
In five starts since, the Reds' No. 19 prospect has righted the ship. He put together his best start of the season Sunday, striking out seven and allowing three this over six innings as Class A Dayton blanked South Bend, 2-0.
Through May 20, Guillon had an 8.91 ERA as he worked five innings just once. He walked 42 batters and struck out 50 over 32 innings, surrendering seven homers among 35 hits. The Venezuela native has a 1.94 ERA while completing five-plus frames in all but one of his last five starts.
"You can see in a pitcher's face when he's building confidence," Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas said. "That's what he's doing right now. That he's getting his confidence back tells me a lot about this young man. He had some games earlier this year that might've had me running to the mound."
Fossas credits Guillon's recent successes to his ability to work ahead of hitters. The 21-year-old southpaw's fastball varies from 87-94 mph, but he tends to push the higher end of that range when ahead in the count.
"That's a normal thing for a young man," Fossas said. "He has the ability to get the velocity, though. The more comfortable he is, the more he feels he can throw strikes and the velocity can come up."
As he's worked ahead more effectively, opposing hitters' batting averages have plummeted. Guillon's given up 13 hits over his last 23 innings and has kept every opponent to three or fewer in those past five starts. And none of those hits have been homers.
Guillon's preference is to work off his fastball with a changeup that could be an above-average big league pitch. Of late, Fossas has asked him to use his curveball more, and it was his willingness to mix all three of his pitches Sunday that enabled Guillon to have his best outing of the season.
"He's always had the curveball, but he loves his change so much off his fastball, he doesn't give himself a chance to throw enough curves," Fossas said. "Today, he took it out early in the game and struck a kid out with it and figured out, 'Hey, this might work.' And he was able to throw the breaking ball for strikes, and then he was getting swings and misses on balls in the dirt."
Guillon fanned Andrew Velazquez to begin the game, then got three of the next five batters to ground out. He walked a hitter and allowed a single to open the third but rebounded with two quick strikeouts. Breland Almadova then lined a single, but left fielder Jesse Winker bailed out the left-hander by throwing out Carter Bell at the plate.
The non-drafted free agent sailed smoothly from there, finishing with two strikeouts and three groundouts over his final two innings in his longest start since throwing seven innings last Sept. 3.
Fossas hopes the outing can be a building block for Guillon, who still has more to offer than what he's shown on the mound. Walks have plagued him even as he's found recent success -- he's issued 16 free passes in his last 23 innings.
"He's not missing by much," Fossas said. "Before, early in the season, he was missing by quite a bit. Now when he misses down and away or up a little, he's just effectively wild, not really wild.
"For the last two or three starts, his bullpens and pregame have been right on the money. His bullpens are still better than the way he's pitching. His rhythm and tempo have been really good and he's not thinking about anything. He's just letting the ball go."