Outfielder William Ortega is enjoying the kind of season any player would delight in gabbing about. Except William Ortega.

Approached in the clubhouse Thursday night to talk about his hitting streak, which going into last night had stretched to 17 games, Ortega mumbled something about not speaking English. But team personnel say the Cuban speaks English just fine. When this observation was pointed out to Ortega, he just grinned and walked away.

"Willie doesn't say a lot, ever," Manager Joe Cunningham said. "He's not running his mouth or blabbing. He just goes out and does his job."

Lately, that job has included playing center field, in place of Jason Lee. Cunningham has been playing Billy Deck in right field, the usual sport for Ortega, who has gone 64 consecutive games without committing an error.

"Willie makes all the routine plays, and he'll make a great play every now and then," Cunningham said. "He reads the ball off the bat real well. He looks nonchalant out there, but it hasn't cost him or cost us. That's just the way he plays."

Ortega is batting a team-high .302. His 65 runs, 26 doubles and 72 RBI trail only designated hitter Andy Bevins on the team. And in about the same number of at-bats, Ortega has struck out 40 fewer times than Bevins.

Title Within Reach?

Even with a 21-24 record, Potomac finds itself in the thick of the Carolina League race for the second-half Northern Division title. The Cannons carried a five-game winning streak into their game last night at Salem.

Potomac hasn't won more than three consecutive games all season.

"We're thinking about [the division title] a little bit, but we haven't been in a position all year to really get too carried away with something like that," Bevins said. "We just need to keep playing the way we have been lately and see what the other teams do, too."

Bevins has been stuck on 21 homers since July 26.

Doing His Part for Team

Third baseman Aaron Gentry has fewer at-bats than any Potomac player, including the ones who joined the team at midseason. But Cunningham gave him four starts this week, and Gentry responded with fine glove work and the occasional hit.

It's Gentry's dedication that has earned him the opportunity at third base, despite a team-low .151 batting average.

"Every time in the sixth inning when he's not playing, I see him down there getting loose to pinch run," Cunningham said. "I mean every day. I'm just trying to get him some at-bats here lately, and he's won a couple games just with his glove. He's made some hellacious plays."

Gentry started a 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded Thursday night to end the top of the eighth inning in a 5-4 win over Winston-Salem.

As for stretching to prepare for the rare pinch-running opportunity, Gentry says that's just a way to stay involved in the game.

"If you don't play, you can go out in your own world and sit on the bench and feel sorry for yourself," Gentry said. "If I can have a good attitude and stay up for everybody else, that makes me feel a part of the team."

Tough Road Home

After a poor outing, the walk from the mound to the dugout can seem to take forever. But not nearly as long as the steamed stroll Jason Marr subjected himself to on Aug. 6 after giving up six runs in 1 1/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to Wilmington.

Upset about blowing the Cannons' 2-0 lead, Marr stormed out of the clubhouse and walked home to Rolling Brook Village Apartments in Woodbridge, about a three-hour trek.

"I was frustrated and just wanted to clear things out of my head and start over," said Marr, who Thursday night picked up his 18th save, second most in the Carolina League.

Marr's term for what he did was "Chevro-leg" it home. Had it happened before?

"Not after a baseball game," he said. "Maybe after a fight with my girlfriend I'd take a long walk."