Can Fukudome Stay Hot?

Kosuke Fukudome (PHOTO/LARRY WOOLIS)

Kosuke Fukudome is off to another fast start. The trick now is maintaining it.

Fukudome, a Japanese native in his third season with the Cubs, is batting .342 with a .438 on-base percentage and five home runs. He entered this season as a lifetime .331 hitter in the first month of the season, with that average falling to .287 in May and .218 in June.

Manager Lou Piniella has said more than once that he feels this will be the year Fukudome breaks out and puts it together for an entire season. One thing to watch is whether Fukudome begins "spinning" at the plate as he tries to pull everything to right field.

So far, he looks as if he has good balance at the plate.

"He's staying through the ball well," Piniella said. "He stays on the ball much better."

One thing that may be helping is that Fukudome has had his hitting coach from Japan, Kyosuke Sasaki, with him lately. Sasaki came over last year when Fukudome was slumping, and he also was at spring training with the Cubs.

Fukudome speaks a limited amount of English, so the ability to communicate with Sasaki is important. On top of that, Fukudome said he feels more comfortable in the United States and in dealing with his teammates than he has in the past.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Geovany Soto is hot after a 2-for-15 start to the season. He's batting .322 with a .487 on-base percentage to go with three homers. The most impressive part of Soto's game is that he's drawn a team-high 19 walks. Soto has done most of his hitting out of the No. 8 spot.

--Mike Fontenot has been overshadowed by some of the other Cubs who have hit well of late, but Fontenot currently is riding a 10-game hitting streak. His career best is 12, set in 2007. Fontenot gives the Cubs a left-handed presence in the lineup along with Fukudome.

--Aramis Ramirez figures to be back in the lineup Tuesday night as the Cubs open a series in Pittsburgh. Ramirez is batting just .155, and it looks as if he's been over-swinging. He had a seat on the bench Sunday, and with the Cubs having an off day Monday, Ramirez gets an extra day.

"He's a veteran guy," said Piniella. "You've got to battle your way out of it."

Ramirez has 25 strikeouts in 97 at-bats, an unusually high percentage for him.

--OF Xavier Nady figures to start Tuesday against his former team. Nady has not started since April 24, and he's batting .194. Nady is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and the Cubs have been bringing him along slowly.

--Carlos Zambrano, moved from the No. 1 spot in the rotation to the bullpen almost two weeks ago, could conceivably close games but only if Carlos Marmol isn't available. Zambrano was warming up in a non-save situation in Sunday's 10-5 win over Arizona, but he did not get into the game. Marmol threw 35 pitches Saturday and 25 Sunday. If that situation arises again, Zambrano may be that day's closer.

"That's a luxury that the move we made gives us," Piniella said.

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