By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2001
A player on the West Coast is causing quite a commotion with his hitting streaks, high average and magnificent play in the outfield.
And we're not talking about Ichiro Suzuki.
Bakersfield Blaze rightfielder Matt Diaz is drawing comparisons to the Seattle Mariners rookie.
Diaz's 19-game hitting streak ended May 19, and he had hit safely in 24 of 26 games through Monday night. During May, Diaz has improved his average from .265 to .332, eighth in the California League.
Diaz is tied for second in the league with 65 hits and is second in doubles with 19.
Diaz, a 17th-round draft pick in 1999, has been more important to the offense since the promotion of Dan Grummitt to Double-A Orlando last week. Diaz had the third-highest average on the Blaze and will be counted on to remain productive in Grummitt's absence.
Diaz is the team leader with 31 RBI and is second on the team in hitting, trailing league leader and teammate Nate Kaup and his .372 average.
Kaup, a third baseman, has 21 multihit games in his first 44 with the team and entered Tuesday night having scored at least one run in eight straight games.
HURTIN' HAMMER: Orlando placed Josh Hamilton on the 15-day disabled list May 22 with an injured back. Hamilton, the organization's top prospect, has not played since April 30 and is batting .180 with four RBI and 22 strikeouts in 23 games.
It is uncertain when Hamilton, the South Atlantic League's co-MVP last season, will return to the O-Rays.
Hamilton has been unable to avoid injuries in his first two full seasons of pro ball.
He missed the final month of Charleston's season last year after tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee while chasing a fly ball. This year he battled the flu during the first month of the season before injuring his back in a batting cage.
WHAT ABOUT US?: Durham's pitching staff is considered the best in the organization. Charleston, however, is making its pitch to gain a little recognition.
RiverDog pitchers have struck out 10 or more batters in 30 of their 51 games. Durham has accomplished that feat five times. Mark Malaska leads with 60 strikeouts. Mike McClung has 59.
RIPPIN' RIVERDOG: Charleston third baseman Juan Salas was rated by Baseball America last year as having the best infield arm in the farm system. This year he's proving he has one of the best bats as well.
Through Monday's games Salas was carrying a 10-game hitting streak, the longest by a RiverDog this season, and watching his average skyrocket. During the streak Salas, who never has hit higher than .259 in a full season, is 14-for-37 (.378) and is hitting .255. When the streak began, Salas was batting .224.
FARM SCRAPS: Bakersfield opening-day pitcher Neal Frendling began the season 1-4 but has corrected the slide and is 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. Teammate Brian Stokes is 6-0 and tied for second in the league in wins. ... Durham's Mike Caruso collected two hits Sunday, which isn't noteworthy except it was Caruso's 24th birthday and it raised his average to .333 (6-for-18) on that day since 1998. ... Grummitt's only two hits in his first three games with Orlando were home runs.