Filed:March 12th, 2009
Kosuke Fukudome (Cubbie Nation/File)
Manager Lou Piniella continued the Cubs' strong commitment to Kosuke Fukudome this week, by announcing that all is well, and Kosuke should expect to hit second in the lineup to start the season for Chicago.
Fukudome was in Arizona this week for a Cubs-Japan exhibition game today, which Japan won 3-2. He went 1-4, proving that he can at least hit Cubs pitching. I kid. I kid.
Piniella gave the news to reporters Tuesday, and when asked about Fukudome, replied specifically:
"We're going to try it initially with Soriano and Fukudome, one-two, against right-handed pitching and see how that works. I think that'll work quite well."
I agree, and think that this is good news for a number of reasons. Fukudome in 2008 was probably the most ill-suited hitter in the five hole this side of Jose Vidro, and while paradoxically, he performed well there to start the season, I was always of the opinion that the alterations in his game required to leverage a high-RBI spot in the lineup at least contributed to his 2008 downfall.
It's just not his game—at all. No, Kosuke is a bit more Ichiro than Matsui, with a little more thump. Work counts. See pitches. Get on base. Move runners along. Those are the things that a Fukudome can do to best serve a team.
Do I still think he can pop 10-15 homers a season? I do, but it's when you put him in a position to go with the flow during an at-bat as opposed to "How can I drive in this runner?" that I expect to see him have the greatest results. With a walk-first mentality, and a great ability to handle the bat, I would consider second in the order about the perfect spot to maximize his natural talents.
Almost as important, this also relegates Ryan Theriot to the bottom of the order, where he is most likely to excel. Theriot—who does little particularly well—should see the benefit of plenty of work-arounds and outright free passes ahead of the pitcher.
Expect the Cubs to take advantage of his speed not only to give them some options to manufacture runs, but also to provide greater RBI opportunities for Alfonso Soriano without having to actually move him off the lead-off spot.
I tend to think that Ryan's high OBP was a bit of an anomaly last season, but I thought the same about that .326 figure in 2007. I expect him to find himself somewhere in the middle during his career, and the eight spot should help ensure that, if only artificially.
Further, this does give the Cubs the balanced lineup that they've been trying to achieve this offseason, creating a likely lineup against right-handed pitching that looks something like:
It's not perfect, but from a balance standpoint, markedly better than last season. Consider me high on this move.
Oh, and just as an aside, did anyone else catch this? It's not a joke. You know, when your favorite despot is blogging baseball, it really must be spring.