Sasaki encouraged by Fukudome's progress
Personal hitting coach believes outfielder will hit over .300
CHICAGO -- Kosuke Fukudome's hitting coach, Kyosuke Sasaki, predicted this spring that the Cubs outfielder will finish this season batting above .300. On Thursday, Sasaki said he's encouraged by his star pupil.
What Sasaki started working on this offseason -- and what Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has continued -- is to have Fukudome lower his body in his stance and be more compact.
"At the end of last year, just watching the video, I was thinking that he probably should lower himself down a little bit," Sasaki said Thursday through Fukudome's interpreter Hiro Aoyama. "Then, at the end of the season, he came to Osaka where I live. I started to talk about it and he was actually thinking the exact same thing. We were in agreement. Then I started working with him about it."
This offseason, the two worked for five straight days, hitting three hours a day. Sasaki was in Mesa, Ariz., for one week during Spring Training to continue the lesson. Now, it's just a matter of reinforcing it.
What's good is that Jaramillo and Sasaki are on the same page.
"What I am thinking is the same thing he's thinking," Sasaki said. "I'm thinking Kosuke is comfortable around him."
Fukudome came through on Thursday in the Cubs' 13-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He hit his first grand slam since coming to the U.S. in the eighth inning, and now is batting .328. One year ago, the outfielder got off to a good start and hit .338 in April but finished at .259. In two seasons in the U.S. Major Leagues, Fukudome has compiled a .258 batting average. In nine years in Japan, he hit .305, winning a batting title in 2006, when he hit .351.
Sasaki predicts this will be a good year.
"Just looking at him, he's definitely getting better," Sasaki said. "As a batter, I think everybody has to be ready for the quick approach, and he is ready for it, so I think it's definitely a better situation for him."
So will he finish over .300?
"I definitely think he is going to hit over .300," Sasaki said.
Group protests Arizona's new immigration law
CHICAGO -- About 50 people upset at Arizona's new immigration law took their protest to Wrigley Field on Thursday.
The group, carrying signs that said "Shame on Arizona," called for a boycott of Arizona businesses, including the D-backs, who opened a four-game series against the Cubs on Thursday.
One sign compared Arizona to Nazi Germany and another replaced the star in Arizona's state flag with a masked Ku Klux Klansman. A small plane toting a banner criticizing the law circled Wrigley Field before the game.
"We're here to play baseball," Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said before Thursday's game. "I'm going to stay away from the political arena, protests. We're here to compete against the Cubs today."
The controversial law allows police to stop people in Arizona who they suspect are in the country illegally.
Rookie Caridad to rehab in Minors game
CHICAGO -- Rookie pitcher Esmailin Caridad will throw one inning in a Minor League game Saturday in Mesa, Ariz., his first game action since going on the disabled list.
Caridad has been sidelined since April 12 with a strained right forearm. He was rehabbing at the Cubs' extended spring camp.
The right-hander, who was projected as the Cubs' main setup pitcher this season, was about 10 days away from being able to rejoin the Major League team.
Caridad had appeared in four games before he was hurt, and had given up four runs on three hits and three walks over 2 2/3 innings.
Fontenot didn't think bunt was necessary
CHICAGO -- To bunt or not to bunt? That was the question after Wednesday's Cubs game.
The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Marlon Byrd doubled to lead off the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. Mike Fontenot was up next and popped up to shortstop Ian Desmond. After the game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella became a little testy with a reporter who asked if Fontenot should've bunted.
"Bunting what?" Piniella snapped. "With a left-handed hitter [Fontenot] up, you want to bunt? What kind of baseball do you play?"
Twenty-four hours later, what did Fontenot think?
"Whatever he wanted me to do, I'd do," said Fontenot on Thursday, who obviously wasn't bunting. "I should've been able to get the job done swinging the bat. That's part of the game. When there's a guy on second, nobody out, the pitcher knows -- everybody knows -- you're trying to pull the ball.
"Usually they try to keep it away -- he actually wasn't trying to keep it away," Fontenot said of Nats reliever Brian Bruney. "He threw a few pitches, and I had really good swings and fouled them off. I had a good swing on the last one and the ball just went the wrong way on me."
The Cubs stranded 11 in the loss, so it wasn't just Fontenot who failed to deliver with men on.
"We had opportunities," Fontenot said. "Myself, I had opportunities a couple times and I didn't get it done. As a team, we didn't get it done yesterday, and that's what it comes down to. After the fact, there's always things you can say, like, 'I could've done this.' Long story short, swinging the bat, I should've gotten it done."
As for Piniella, he got a little break on Thursday and didn't meet with the media before the game.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.