Potomac's Jim Paduch started his professional career last year about as well as he could have hoped. He went 7-1 with rookie league Billings (Mont.), and the final victory was a no-hitter that gave his team a league title.

Paduch struggled early for the Cannons this season, but he recently has started to regain the form that made him so effective.

The right-hander, scheduled to start tonight at home against Salem, has surrendered seven home runs in 401/3 innings; last year he gave up one homer in 782/3 innings. But in his last two outings, Paduch (1-1, 4.69 ERA) has yielded only one earned run in nine innings and hasn't surrendered any home runs.

"Earlier I was leaving the ball up, hanging some curveballs and missing my spots in key situations," Paduch said. "Now I'm keeping the ball down a little better."

Paduch made the transition to being a professional pitcher despite not dedicating all his time to the position while playing for Concordia University near his home town of Chicago. He pitched throughout college, but he played shortstop his first two years on his off days, and he also played first base sporadically his junior year. Paduch had to put in extra work on his own time to develop his pitching skills.

The work paid off when the Reds selected him in the 12th round of the 2003 draft, following his junior year. He pitched in 15 games for Billings last season, recording a 1.94 ERA and winning nearly half his decisions. He saved his best effort for last -- Paduch faced one batter over the minimum in a no-hitter to clinch the Pioneer League championship series against Provo.

"Pitching that well, in a game with that kind of magnitude, it was pretty amazing," said Paduch, who had never thrown better than a two-hitter in college or high school. "I didn't do anything out of the ordinary, it was just my night."