04/03/08 7:46 PM ET
Enthusiasm surrounds Fukudome early
Right fielder gives Brewers fits in first Major League series
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Fans are holding up signs in the Wrigley Field bleachers that appear to be an attempt to say, "It's going to happen" in Japanese. But whatever dictionary or phrase book they are using has converted the message instead to: "It's an accident."
Fukudome and the Japanese media have spotted the mistakes. Ryuji Araki, Fukudome's interpreter, said the problem is that there is no Japanese equivalent to, "It's going to happen." He suggested, kotoshi koso, which means, "They will win this year."
Fans have enthusiastically welcomed Fukudome to Wrigley. Some wave Japanese flags. On Thursday, eight men in the right-field bleachers spelled out his name by painting letters on their bare chests, despite the 43-degree gametime temperature.
In the first three games of his Major League career, Fukudome is hot. He's 4-for-8 with three RBIs, and three of his four hits have gone for extra bases.
"He's very patient," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He works the count very well. He's just a professional hitter. He probably takes more pitches than anybody else on the team. He's in a three-ball count a heck of a lot."
The Brewers had a tough time figuring Fukudome out. On Opening Day, he was 3-for-3, including a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth. On Wednesday, Fukudome was 0-for-3 with a walk, and on Thursday, he was 1-for-2 with two walks and scored two runs.
"He was different. His approach was different," Brewers manager Ned Yost said about Fukudome's approach on Monday compared to what they saw in Spring Training. "To be quite honest with you, we still don't really know. We have a pretty good idea how to pitch everybody else, and then it's a matter of execution from that point on."Yost then chuckled.
"We're just not really sure exactly how to pitch him yet," Yost said.
There isn't much video available of Fukudome's games with the Chunichi Dragons. Brewers video coordinator Joe Crawford, who played two seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1998 and 1999, said he didn't remember ever seeing video in Japan.
Crawford and the Brewers built their plan of attack based on limited face-to-face matchups in Spring Training, plus video of the Cubs' other Cactus League games. After the season opener, Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux were wondering whether Fukudome purposely altered his approach this spring to confuse National League foes. It's not that unusual. Yost said he remembered a spring in which then-Braves pitcher Greg Maddux surrendered four home runs to former Met Butch Huskey, all on inside pitches. Maddux was setting up Huskey for a diet of regular-season pitches away.
Was Fukudome trying to confuse the scouts?
"I don't think so," Yost said. "I don't know what he did. He might have."
Fukudome drew a walk in his first at-bat Wednesday to become the first player in the Major Leagues to begin his career reaching safely in five consecutive plate appearances since Kaz Matsui did so April 6, 2004.
"He may have got himself out a few times," said Milwaukee pitcher Jeff Suppan, who held Fukudome hitless on Wednesday. "I thought he showed a lot of plate discipline. He's a nice hitter."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.