By DAVE UTNIK
WOODBRIDGE — He’s pitched virtually non-stop since the Reds selected him in the first round of the 2001 draft — summer, fall, whenever.
Bobby Basham doesn’t care if it’s a California League playoff game, a start in the prestigious Arizona Fall League or a debut performance in the Carolina League. The mound is where he prefers to be.
”I think I can win in this league,” Basham said, following his Potomac Cannons debut Wednesday night — a 3-1 loss to Wilmington. ”I’m just trying to keep the ball down with movement, change speeds and let the defense work for me.”
His smooth, almost casual, delivery is well suited for the type of workload he’s faced in three seasons as a professional. Not that Basham minds. At 23, he’s already pitched at four levels of the Reds organization.
Although the outcome isn’t always to his liking, Basham has proven that he can pitch — and excel ? in the minor leagues. That was never more evident than Wednesday night at Pfitzner Stadium, where the right-hander showed off his prospect credentials in his first start for the Cannons.
”He saw a glimpse of how he is capable of pitching,” Cannons manager Jayhawk Owens said after the Blue Rocks pulled out a victory in the opening game of a doubleheader. ”He gave us the opportunity to win and we didn’t get the RBI hits. He’s going through an adjustment right now and we’re just trying to get him back to where he was last year.”
The adjustments are both mental and physical for Basham. He’s been dealing with arm pain for the first time in his career and is now getting used to a new league after spending nearly four months at Double-A Chattanooga.
”I’m not hurt, but I’m not healthy, either,” Basham explained. ”I’m not anywhere near 100 percent. My velocity is just not there.”
Basham didn’t need overpowering stuff to be effective against the streaking Blue Rocks. He used four different pitches and threw strikes. That gave him an opportunity to pitch into the seventh inning.
”My last start in Double-A I did pretty well, too,” Basham said. ”I was just trying to build off that and give my team a chance to win.”
Basham accomplished that. He held the Blue Rocks to three runs –?two earned –?on five hits. He walked one and struck out one but was saddled with a loss because the Cannons could not generate any type of rally against Wilmington’s Chris Tierney.
Tierney, who took the mound tied for the league lead with nine losses, gave up only one big hit — Jesse Gutierrez’s team-leading 14th homer in the fifth — en route to earning his fourth win.
Tierney benefited from three double plays and closer Mike Natale worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning to pick up his seventh save for the Blue Rocks, who moved three games over .500 at 20-17.
All three Wilmington runs came with two outs. Trey Dyson doubled and scored on a throwing error in the second and the Blue Rocks built a 2-0 lead when Andres Blanco singled and scored on a two-out base hit by Chris Fallon.
After Basham retired 10 straight batters, Wilmington scored its final run in the seventh on a walk to Dyson and a two-out double by John Draper.
The Cannons, who lost their seventh straight to fall 3 1/2 games out of first place, are 16-20 with four weeks remaining in the second half.