Breakout year coming for Fukudome?
Outfielder more comfortable in third season in Majors
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella has predicted this could be a breakout year for outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who delivered a game-winning hit on Wednesday.
Fukudome followed Ryan Theriot's two-run single in the eighth inning with one of his own to help the Cubs rally to beat the Brewers, 7-6. It was Fukudome's first game-winning RBI of the season. He ranked third on the team with seven game-winning RBIs in 2009.
"He's been working hard on his swing and he's been making real good solid contact and good professional at-bats up there," Piniella said of the Japanese outfielder, now in his third season in the Majors. "I think the fact that this is his third year in the league and he's more acclimated to day-night baseball, I'm hoping this will be his breakout year in the National League."
Fukudome also singled in the first and hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh. He's now batting .417, and improved his career March/April numbers to .342.
"I'm really settled down this year, so that's probably the best reason I'm doing well," Fukudome said through interpreter Hiro Aoyama.
Settled down personally and professionally?
"Yes, everything -- except the interpreter," he said, joking.
Fukudome won the Cubs' fans over in his first home opener when he hit a game-tying three-run homer, also against the Brewers, in 2008. On Wednesday, Wrigley Field patrons were chanting his name again in the eighth.
"I felt really good to hear them calling my name out there in the field," he said. "I do need to do my best so they will continue to cheer for me."
Thumb continues to sideline Lee
CHICAGO -- Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee received a cortisone shot in his right thumb and was held out of Wednesday's lineup.
Lee, who injured his thumb on April 5 in Atlanta when he dove for a ball, is expected back in the lineup on Thursday in the series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"If it were up to him, he'd play every day," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Lee, who was advised not to take batting practice on Wednesday to avoid reaggravating the thumb. "When you get that type of medical advice, you heed to it and that's it."
Lee needs one home run to become the 10th player to hit 100 regular-season homers at Wrigley Field. The group includes Sammy Sosa (293), Ernie Banks (290), Billy Williams (231), Ron Santo (212), Ryne Sandberg (164), Hank Sauer (118), Gabby Hartnett (115), Andre Dawson (110) and Hack Wilson (109).
Lee does not like to talk about injuries.
"I don't like revealing my weaknesses," Lee said, laughing.
Lilly's return likely after April 23
CHICAGO -- Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly gave up one hit over four innings Wednesday night for Triple-A Iowa, and if all goes well, he could join the rotation sometime after April 23.
Lilly is coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and was slowed this spring when he was sidelined with the flu. He was then stalled because of back stiffness, which flared up last Friday.
On Wednesday night, he served up a solo homer to Memphis' Tyler Greene in the first. In his outing, Lilly walked one and struck out four. He was pulled after throwing 51 pitches, 31 for strikes.
"It was fun just being back on the mound," Lilly told reporters in Des Moines. "Everything went well. I'm pretty sure I'll feel good when I wake up."
The Iowa Cubs won, 5-2. Lilly gave way to Jay Jackson, who was the initial scheduled starter, and Jackson gave up two hits over five innings.
Lilly was expected to make one more Minor League start and if all goes well, he could start either in Milwaukee April 23-25, or during the Cubs' next homestand when they entertain the Nationals April 26-28.
"We had talked about the last week of April being the timetable for him, and if everything goes right, that's exactly when it'll be," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Speaking of the rotation, the Cubs have tweaked theirs for the upcoming series vs. the Astros, and it'll be Carlos Silva on Friday, Tom Gorzelanny on Saturday, and Ryan Dempster on Sunday.
When Lilly does return, the Cubs will have to tweak their rotation and someone will go to the bullpen.
"We'll let everybody pitch until that happens," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "It'll be a good problem to have if everybody is pitching good."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.