Cubs still waiting on Fukudome to put it all together


Cubs still waiting on Fukudome to put it all together

Friday, Feb. 18, 2011Posted: 8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Kosuke Fukudome is the still figure on the Sports Illustrated cover. With the bat raised high above his head, his chin touches his right shoulder and his eyes stare into the distance.

Japanese characters run across the page in big print, with an asterisk: Its Gonna Happen: Kosuke Fukudome Can End the Cubs 100-Year Wait.

This is the picture of calm before a helicopter swing. By the time the May 5, 2008 issue hit the newsstands, everyone had bought into the hype of an outfielder imported for 48 million.

But perceptions change and the Cubs and their fans are no longer imagining the possibilities. It happens everywhere. Five months earlier, the same magazine had put Brett Favre on the cover in a Green Bay Packers uniform, as its Sportsman of the Year.

The huge pack of international media wasnt following Fukudome on Friday when he reported to Fitch Park. There were just two Japanese reporters waiting in the clubhouse. These are lowered expectations for a player who will rotate with Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin in the outfield.

I dont think about the other guys, he said through an interpreter. I just need to take care of myself.

The Cubs didnt think they would be getting a platoon player and a situational leadoff hitter when they lavished that contract on Fukudome, who turns 34 in April. He hasnt yet produced more than 13 homers or 58 RBI in a season.

Fukudome is said to enjoy living in Chicago and having access to its strong Japanese community. Last fall, he bought a condo overlooking Lake Shore Drive. His four-year deal expires at the end of this season.

I would like to stay, he said, but you never know whats going to happen.

Fukudome has no-trade protection and a 13.5 million salary in 2011 that will make him difficult to move. He does not seem to be thinking about returning to Japan, saying that he will stay in the United States as long as he can play in the majors.

Cubs manager Mike Quade praises Fukudomes work ethic and the outfielder does do things to differentiate himself. Fukudome was an All-Star in 2008, has a .368 career on-base percentage and continues to be a plus defender.

Disappointment or not, I dont know, Quade said. I was thrilled with the way he finished. His first year, with the start he had, I think everybody had illusions of grandeur. Its not that easy over here. I just want to see him build on what he did last year.

Thats more difficult for a streaky hitter like Fukudome, who especially seems to need regular at-bats to get his timing down. Last years .263 average broke down like this month-to-month: .344; .253; .189; .162; .365; .210.

Lou Piniella struggled with dividing time between his outfielders last year and that issue isnt going away. Soriano has an even bigger contract than Fukudome. Byrd is coming off his own All-Star season. Colvin is being sold as one of the new faces of the franchise.

Performance will dictate a lot of that, Quade said. You think you know what you have with your three veterans and an emerging Colvin, but youre never sure. You have to stay flexible. And I think part of what I do is talking to guys and being honest with (them to give) them an idea of what Im thinking daily.

Fukudome appears to know a lot more than he lets on, and has a sneaky sense of humor. He saw a few American reporters hanging around his locker on Friday, next to his translator. Once he was finished getting dressed blue jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt he pretended to duck out the door without a word.

It was a quiet first day at work. They will all come back if he has a strong 2011.

Im definitely not satisfied with where I am, Fukudome said. But the bottom line is Im getting better little by little. I just need to put everything together.

PatrickMooney is's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.