The Mariners' top prospect snapped off five hitless innings, allowing a run on three walks while striking out six in Tacoma's 4-3 victory over Reno.
After allowing 11 runs -- 10 earned -- over 9 2/3 innings in his last two starts in July, Hultzen (1-2) has given up one run in 8 2/3 frames in his last two outings. A step, however small, in the right direction for the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
"Anytime you can see a little progress, even though it's minimal, it's a good sign you're in the right direction," Hultzen said. "That's the battle for every pitcher -- consistency. Having a few rough starts, I think, were actually really helpful. It was an eye-opening experience. It brought me back down to earth -- not that my head was in the clouds, but it really shows you how important the little details are.
"Getting ahead, throwing strikes. It was tough going through those bad starts, but in the end I think it's helped."
After his July 28 start against Tucson, Hultzen's ERA had risen to 5.23. He's managed to bring it back down to 4.35 with 50 strikeouts over 41 1/3 innings. His struggles, though, illustrate just how much the jump from Double-A to the Pacific Coast League challenged him.
MLB.com's No. 11 overall prospect diced up the Southern League while pitching for Double-A Jackson, going 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.
"It's a huge jump. It's a big change just playing pro baseball, and at every level it's harder," the 22-year-old left-hander said. "You see how good these guys are, especially the guys in Triple-A. They know what they're doing up there and execute. It's very difficult to pitch to those guys. They know the zone, and that's something I had trouble adjusting to."
Hultzen's biggest problem this season probably has been walks. Even with his success at Double-A, he issued 32 in 13 starts, averaging 3.82 per nine innings. At Triple-A, he's walked 29 batters in nine starts, or 6.32 per nine innings.
The importance of strike zone command was underscored by Hultzen's first inning Sunday, when he issued all three of his free passes. That led to Cole Gillespie's sacrifice fly, the only run the Aces scored against him.
"I had a rough first inning, walking three guys. That can never happen," Hultzen said. "It's almost embarrassing to walk that many guys in the first inning. But after that, I settled in a little bit, felt comfortable, threw strikes with the fastball.
"It made the job a lot easier when you have an idea of where the ball is going. You have to keep it simple, not try to overcomplicate things, and it's a little bit harder with hitters like this. But if you do that, then you're gonna have success."
On Sunday, Nick Franklin -- Seattle's No. 3 prospect -- hit his sixth Triple-A homer for the Rainiers. Alex Liddi and Brandon Batz also went deep.