Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
As the 51s return home from their Tennessee road trip for a two-series homestand, they bring with them an offense that has found a spark in recent weeks.
At the heart of it, though, is a guy who classifies himself as anything but flashy.
In fact, when veteran first baseman Brett Harper talks about hitting, he refuses to use any kind of intricate philosophies or superstitions that have helped him find success.
Instead? Good, old-fashioned sweat and consistency in his approach.
"Hard work in the offseason, hard work in the cages, working up a sweat, grinding it out, getting good pitches to hit," Las Vegas's burly slugger said. "It's not worrying about where you hit the ball, but just hitting it hard."
And by not thinking about where the ball will go, he's in turn wound up hitting it just about everywhere.
Of the eight 51s regulars with at least 100 at-bats this season, the veteran leads the group with a .309 average. He has a team-high 10 longballs to his credit and is second on the club with 34 RBI.
He was at his hottest when the 51s wrapped up their last homestand, including a four-game homerun streak, followed up with a 3-for-5 effort with 2 RBI in a 9-1 victory over Sacramento on May 10.
"I'm comfortable," he said following that performance. "THis game will humble you in two seconds. You can be 0-for-12 in no time. I've developed a good approach to hitting to where I know what I'm trying to do each time I step in the box."
Though it's something he said is counterproductive to even think about, Harper is as likely a candidate for a call-up from the Blue Jays should an injury occur as any of the 51s big bats.
Now in his ninth-year of professional ball -- all spent in the minor leagues -- he's become a model of consistency at the plate. Coming into this season, he was a lifetime .299 hitter, including 80 combined homeruns over his last three full seasons played.
It's simply come with, again, hard work.
And some seasoning.
"I was a young kid at 19 years old when I signed. I played one year at junior college, so I was just learning how to hit," he said. "Lifting weights, eating right, getting your rest, getting older. You get stronger as you get older. I'm not 19 anymore. I'm 27 years old."
And he's certainly hitting like it.
Also providing some pop ...
Not to be overlooked as the 51s return home is 23-year-old catcher and former first-round pick J.P. Arencibia.
Arencibia started slower this season at the plate than he did in either of his first two professional seasons, but his bat has come around of late, nicely complementing the defensive progression the organization hoped for in his first season at the Triple-A level.
Following a two-homerun effort on Monday in a win at Nashville, his average is up to .255, with 8 homeruns and 25 RBI to go with it.
Over his last 10 games, Arencibia is hitting .395 (15-of-38) with 5 homers 5 doubles and 14 RBI.
Extending the streak?
Taking the mound in Thursday's 7:05 p.m. contest with Oklahoma City (17-20) for the 51s (15-24) is Fabio Castro, who is one of the hottest starting pitchers in the entire Pacific Coast League.
In four starts for the 51s since his early season promotion, the 24-year-old lefty is 2-0 with a miniscule 1.03 ERA.
In fact, since giving up 3 earned runs in his Triple-A debut on April 30 against Salt Lake, Castro has not allowed an earned run since, throwing 21 consecutive scoreless innings. Following the second of those three spotless outings, he was named the PCL Pitcher of the Week.
Last time out -- Friday at Memphis -- he allowed 3 hits, 2 walks and recorded 5 strikeouts in his second win of the season.
Castro was acquired by the Blue Jays late last season in a swap with the Phillies for veteran slugger Matt Stairs.
A look at the homestand
The four games with Oklahoma City are followed immediately with four against New Orleans at Cashman Field.
The RedHawks come to Las Vegas as winners of 6 of their last 8 games. That includes a double-header sweep at home over Tacoma on Monday. They've been off since then.
As for the Zephyrs, they play a four-game set at Reno before heading to Vegas.
They've lost five in a row, but will bring to town one of the game's most exciting young prospects in 22-year-old centerfielder Cameron Maybin.
Since being sent down by the Marlins, he's hitting .375 with 3 RBI in 7 games with New Orleans.