Fukudome Does Not Need Slow Start
Fukudome (PHOTO/LARRY WOOLIS)
Fukudome (PHOTO/LARRY WOOLIS)

Posted Apr 6, 2009


The biggest thing to watch in the early going will be how much patience manager Lou Piniella has with center fielder Kosuke Fukudome.

Fukudome's miserable second half last season is well documented -- he hit .217 after the All-Star break -- and Piniella probably won't be too understanding if Fukudome gets off to a poor start to the regular season.

After playing for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, Fukudome rejoined the Cubs in late March and had a so-so rest of the spring. He showed some flashes at the plate, turning on one ball and hitting a home run to right field.

Piniella wants Fukudome to use the whole field and to continue being selective at the plate.

Interestingly, Fukudome's biggest asset last year, despite the offensive swoon, was his defense in right field. The Cubs have Milton Bradley to play right this year, and the left-handed hitting Fukudome will share time in center with Reed Johnson.

Fukudome dropped one fly ball in Arizona, but Piniella chalked that up to the "high sky" and big center field. However, he made an error over the weekend in Yankee Stadium when another fly ball went off his glove. Fukudome played center field in Japan, so the position shouldn't be an issue, but it's definitely something to watch.

Whether it was to light a fire under Fukudome, Piniella went out of his way to praise Johnson, saying he brings energy to the team.

Johnson came to camp in great shape and hit well in the Cactus League. His defense is superb, so it's not a stretch to say he could be playing every day by May 1.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHPs Angel Guzman and David Patton have made the Cubs' bullpen. Guzman, a longtime prospect, was out of options, but the Cubs didn't want to lose him now that he finally appears to be healthy after several years of medical problems. Patton is a Rule 5 draft pick the Cubs took from Colorado via a trade with Cincinnati. The Cubs sent RHP Jeff Samardzija to Class AAA Iowa (Des Moines). They released veteran RHP Chad Gaudin, who had a poor spring. The Cubs are on the hook for $1.6 million of the $2 million Gaudin had coming. Guzman figures to open as the Cubs' long reliever.

--Samardzija is expected to work as a starting pitcher for Iowa once he gets settled, but the Cubs expect to limit him to two or three innings at the beginning. Samardzija went to spring training battling to become the fifth starter, a job that went to Sean Marshall. After Marshall won the job, Samardzija went to the bullpen, where he worked in short stints. So the Cubs want to stretch him back out before letting him go long as a starter at Iowa. Samardzija was 0-1 with a 7.63 ERA in the Cactus League.

--1B Micah Hoffpauir will be breaking camp with a big-league team for the first time in his career. Hoffpauir, 29, appeared in 33 games with the Cubs last year, when he also hit 25 home runs and drove in 100 for Iowa in only 71 games. Although Hoffpauir can play both outfield corners, he figures to see most of his time as a pinch hitter and as a backup to Derrek Lee at first base.

--C Koyie Hill broke camp with the Cubs for the first time in three years in the organization. Hill spent most of the last two years at Iowa. He beat out veteran Paul Bako for the backup catcher's job. The Cubs said Hill was familiar with their pitchers. They also like the job he did helping to mentor Geovany Soto at Iowa in 2007. Hill also is a switch hitter. He batted .392 with a homer in the Cactus League.

--2B Mike Fontenot will make his first opening-day start Monday against Houston RHP Roy Oswalt. Piniella will look at individual match-ups before deciding whom to start at second against left-handers. Switch hitter Aaron Miles figures to get playing time at second against some lefties. Miles also will spell Ryan Theriot at shortstop on some days. Fontenot hit .333 (7-for-21) against left-handed pitchers last year, but he's a .247 (18-for-73) hitter lifetime against lefties.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 1 -- Carlos Marmol is the only holdover from the Cubs' opening-day bullpen in 2008. Gone are LHPs Carmen Pignatiello and Scott Eyre and RHPs Michael Wuertz, Bob Howry and Kerry Wood.

HE SAID IT: "It looked like the stars and the moon and the sun and everything was aligned." -- Piniella, lamenting the Cubs reaching the 100th anniversary of their last world championship but failing to deliver last year.


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