08/11/08 12:27 AM ET
Piniella: Fukudome needs to hit
Cubs right fielder could lose playing time if bat doesn't heat up
By Nick Zaccardi / MLB.com
"We need him to start hitting," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said before Sunday night's 6-2 win against the Cardinals. "If not, I'm going to have to start looking for other options."
Fukudome's batting average splits have decreased each month: .305 in April, .293 in May, .264 in June, .236 in July and .107 in 28 August at-bats. He has one home run since the Fourth of July and has started sitting against the occasional left-hander.
Fukudome went 0-for-4 with a pair of groundouts on Sunday. Piniella repeated his concerns after the game. Fukudome, who continues to receive widespread praise from Cubs fans, said he remains confident.
"Nothing much I can say," Fukudome said through interpreter Ryuji Araki. "If Lou decides to put me on the bench, then that's where I will be. I'm not going to start hitting just because he said something like that, either. So I'll just follow whatever Lou tells me to do."
Fukudome grounded into a double play in the first, fouled out to left in the fourth and grounded out to the pitcher in the sixth and seventh. Piniella defended the hitless night.
"Today he hit a few balls hard," he said. "The first double play today was a hit-and-run, and we didn't execute the play. That double play certainly wasn't his fault. He moved the runner over when we needed it [in the sixth]. He hit that ball hard last time up. ... He does such a good job in right field that we hate to take him out of the lineup because of that. But at the same time, we've got other people here that are looking for some playing time that are swinging the bat. I'm going to give him every opportunity, but we'd like to see him hit."
Fukudome said Piniella has not expressed his frustrations with him face-to-face.
"It doesn't bother me at all," Fukudome said. "Maybe that's the American way of doing things around here."
Potential replacements Mike Fontenot and Reed Johnson are hitting over .400 since the All-Star break. Second baseman Mark DeRosa can slide to right field to accommodate Fontenot in the lineup and Johnson can sub in right for Fukudome.
"Fontenot needs to get some at-bats," Piniella said. "DeRosa's been hitting. We need Fukudome to start swinging."
The Japanese import was back in the No. 2 hole on Sunday, with shortstop Ryan Theriot getting a night off. Moving Fukudome up in the order, however, is not likely to last. Expect Theriot to hit second on the upcoming road trip.
Piniella said the only change he's seen with Fukudome is that he's not taking as many pitches as he did earlier in the season. The outfielder has addressed his batting with Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry a couple of times, and he has not sought advice from previous coaches in Japan.
"[Perry] hasn't seen me play all year round," Fukudome said. "He hasn't seen me when I'm really hitting good. He hasn't seen me when I'm really hitting bad. Gerald has not seen everything that he needs to see to give the best advice."
Fukudome said teams are pitching him differently, but he expected that adjustment. One constant for Fukudome -- his four-year, $48 million contract -- has no role in his playing time, the manager said.
"I just look at trying to put lineups that produce runs," Piniella said. "We've got a couple of guys here that are swinging the bats. ... Sooner or later, I've got to give them opportunities."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.