MILWAUKEE -- Experts generally agree that pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery don't return to previous form until the second year back.

Reds reliever Eddie Guardado doesn't want to wait that long.

Through his first four games since he returned to the Majors on Aug. 7 following the elbow reconstruction procedure, Guardado has a 21.00 ERA. He's allowed seven earned runs and nine hits over three innings, including two runs and four hits in the eighth inning of Saturday's 8-4 loss to the Brewers.

"They say it's a process, man. I hate hearing that," said Guardado, who had his elbow operation on Sept. 8, 2006. "I won't ever have an excuse. Surgery or no surgery, I have to pitch better. It's frustrating. I'm a person that loves competing. I take it to heart. You want to do well for your team and organization."

Even before the surgery, when he was a former All-Star closer, Guardado was never one to blow hitters away. The left-hander always relied on a precise ability to locate. Right now that ability to make his pitch is there, sometimes.

"Obviously, you need command to get guys out at this level," Guardado said. "I'm getting the ball up a little bit. I'm trying to find my release point. One pitch I'll have it, and then the next pitch it's right over the middle."

"They say the hardest part for everybody returning from that injury is not arm strength or the physical ability, but the ability to command your pitches," interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "Command of your pitches takes a little bit more time."

Guardado has found himself in a tough spot. He needs more appearances and more situations to test himself and get better. The Reds, who have a $3 million club option on the 36-year-old for 2008, also need to see him more to make a decision. But he's not going to be a first option out of the bullpen for Mackanin when a game is on the line.

"At this point, it'll probably be when we're losing," Guardado said. "I wouldn't want to use me when we're winning to be honest with you. Not right now at this point. But I'll find it. I've pitched too long to not find it."

Stand and deliver: Through his first three big league starts, lefty Phil Dumatrait is 0-1 with a lofty 10.32 ERA. At least now, perhaps, he has a better idea of where he stands -- or how to stand on the mound.

Watching video this week with Dumatrait, pitching coach Dick Pole suggested the rookie change the positioning of his left foot on the rubber. Dumatrait gave it a try during his between-starts bullpen session.

"I was pitching that way since high school," Dumatrait said. "I never realized I was that much off balance. Then I was watching some video and I could tell I was falling forward a little bit. Dick asked me to turn my foot more parallel with the rubber, and I did. Now I'm more balanced."

Dumatrait will get to fully test his mechanical tweak in his next start on Monday vs. the Braves at Great American Ball Park.

"We'll find out tomorrow if it does any good or not," Pole said. "It's just something to keep his balance a little better."

More Ramirez: Mackanin and Pole were both pleased with Elizardo Ramirez's start against Milwaukee on Saturday, despite him taking a loss. Ramirez gave up three earned runs and five hits over five innings, with his lone mistake in 65 pitches being Gabe Gross' three-run homer in the third.

Ramirez, who was called up from Triple-A Louisville, has earned another start on Thursday vs. Atlanta.

"As far as I'm concerned, he is [starting]," Mackanin said. "I kind of like him."

Farm report: Joey Votto had two home runs and five RBIs in Louisville's 8-7 win over Durham on Saturday. Votto, who also had a two-homer game on Friday, is batting .305 with 21 homers and 87 RBIs this season. Reliever Todd Coffey got the win with five strikeouts over two scoreless innings.

Pitching prospect Johnny Cueto gave up seven runs -- six earned -- and 13 hits over 5 2/3 innings in Double-A Chattanooga's 10-4 loss to Tennessee.

Coming up: Dumatrait will open a three-game series at 7:10 p.m. ET on Monday vs. Braves starter Tim Hudson (14-5, 3.02).