Fujikawa hopes to make closer decision tough for Cubs

Fujikawa hopes to make closer decision tough for Cubs
February 9, 2013, 5:00 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – Kyuji Fujikawa heard the question and didn’t need to wait for the translation: “I’m ready.”

Fujikawa wants this after 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, another historic team with a huge following and an ivy-covered stadium. The Cubs view him as their closer of the future, and the sense is that his time in the ninth inning could come sooner rather than later.

Fujikawa had them laughing while almost 10 Japanese reporters surrounded him on Saturday at Fitch Park. They all stood in the parking lot next to a black SUV that was still running. With dyed-blond hair and long sideburns framing his face, Fujikawa looked totally at ease, wearing ripped blue jeans and big sunglasses hooked onto a gray hoodie.

Fujikawa smiled, shook hands with three Chicago reporters and – through an interpreter – said that he didn’t know about Carlos Marmol’s legal situation in the Dominican Republic.

Marmol’s representatives have tried to portray the domestic abuse case as an extortion attempt, and the Cubs have expressed confidence that their closer will report to the complex on time.

Fujikawa’s car stopped at the gate at 11:53 a.m. so that a photographer could take a picture of the Japanese All-Star sitting in the passenger seat. Marmol will have to answer an entirely different set of questions whenever he shows up in Mesa.

The Cubs already had their Plan B in mind this winter when they gave Fujikawa $9.5 million guaranteed over the next two years. There’s also a club/vesting option that could make him a core piece when team president Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project takes off in 2015.

Look for the Cubs to continue saying Marmol is our closer, while Fujikawa adjusts to a new culture and shows the stuff that helped him notch 220 saves in the Central League.  

“The decision’s not up to me,” Fujikawa said. “My job is to get outs, and as I do that, I think I’ll try to make it a tougher decision for the coaches.”

One of the first offseason dominoes that didn’t fall was trading Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels. That Dan Haren deal collapsed and Marmol will make $9.8 million in the final year of his contract.

The Cubs beat out the Angels last December and signed Fujikawa, who said he never contacted Kosuke Fukudome to get an idea of what to expect in Chicago. Fukudome never lived up to his $48 million contract on the North Side, but still enjoyed the city enough to buy a condo on Lake Shore Drive.

Fujikawa, 32, has spoken with other Japanese players who’ve made the adjustment: “They all kind of pointed out that it’s important to bring your own self and not change too much.”

Fujikawa’s interpreter, Ryo Shinkawa, has worked with Boston Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima and Minnesota Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He has a locker here near Darwin Barney and David DeJesus, two of the nicest guys in the clubhouse. A new rule change will also allow him to bring an interpreter to the mound.

At this point, Fujikawa expects his family to stay behind in Japan, so that he can concentrate on baseball and make this a successful transition. He didn’t seem too disappointed that he won’t be pitching in the World Baseball Classic after helping Japan win it in 2006 and 2009. The Cubs certainly wanted him to get settled with his new teammates and coaching staff.

Fujikawa has already been in Arizona for a week and thrown three bullpen sessions. The Cubs are getting a pitcher who posted a 0.96 career WHIP in Japan with 914 strikeouts against only 207 walks.

Even when Marmol’s on, you have no idea where the ball’s going, and that’s what should make Fujikawa so appealing when the game’s on the line and 40,000 fans are yelling at Wrigley Field.