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09/10/09 2:39 AM ET

Fox has opportunity to step up for Cubs

Chicago (71-67) vs. Cincinnati (63-76), 1:20 p.m. CT

PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs return to Wrigley Field on Friday to open a seven-game homestand against the Reds and the Brewers. Alfonso Soriano is still nursing a sore left knee, which means Jake Fox could be starting in left field for the Cubs.

Fox may never be a Gold Glove Award-caliber outfielder. What's gotten him to the big leagues is his hitting. Even though he played only 45 games for Triple-A Iowa, Fox finished as the team leader in home runs (17), RBIs (53) and average (.409). If he had his way, Fox would be catching in the big leagues. That's not what Scott Servais, then the Cubs' catching coordinator, thought.

The two had a "confrontation," Fox said, because Servais told the young Minor Leaguer he couldn't catch at the big league level.

"One of the things that drives me up the wall is when people tell me I can't do something," Fox said.

When asked about the incident now, Fox admits he was young and headstrong. The two butted heads in 2003 when Fox was playing in Mesa, Ariz., on the Rookie League team.

"[Servais] was really trying to help me," Fox said, "and I shut him off."

The report on the youngster was that he knew everything and thought he was too good to get help. Fox figured that out after a conversation with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who suggested he "tone it down."

"[Hendry] said, 'We all know you can be a little bit of a [jerk],'" Fox said. "I said, 'Jim, I don't think you know me too well.' He said, 'All I know is what I read.'"

That's when Fox realized he had to change the Cubs' perception of him. That's why he went into Lou Piniella's office in Spring Training last year. It wasn't to get more playing time, it was to make sure Piniella wasn't being influenced by what was in the personnel files.

"I think once they got to know me, that all changed," Fox said. "They saw I was willing to work and get better and improve. At the same time, I was confident in what I could do."

Coaches seem to either love him or hate him. Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Dave Keller loved Fox's ability to hit, as well as his attitude.

"You'd rather have a guy who has that inner arrogance and believes in himself so you don't have to keep pumping him up all the time." Keller said. "I always believed he could do it."

The incident with Servais scarred Fox, who admits he resisted coaching. Since then, the two have talked and now understand where each other was coming from. Servais, a former big league catcher, is no longer in the Cubs organization.

"He wanted me to change a few things," Fox said. "Naturally, there was room for improvement. I, being young, misinterpreted his approach. From my perspective it was, 'You can't catch at this level like that. We have to change it.' The first thing I thought of was, 'How do you know?'"

Fox credits Keller and hitting coach Barbaro Garbey with sticking with him, although Fox and Keller also had some heated "discussions." This week in Pittsburgh, the two talked.

"[Fox] said, 'I look back now on the times when you were telling me I was swinging too hard, I never really quite understood it,'" Keller said. "That was, No. 1, the biggest thing we had to get through to him. He was already big and strong enough, and he had leverage and natural God-given power and everything else. You don't have to supply more. You make contact, it'll go. I think that's something over time -- some guys get it quick, some guys don't. Some guys never get it."

Fox got it, but it took time.

"I've always butted heads with hitting coaches," Fox said. "They always hate my swing. 'You swing too uphill, you're too aggressive,' whatever. I've always butted heads with them because they want me to get my hands up, swing down, get backspin, shorten up your stride. I've heard it all, plenty of times."

He battled with Gary Matthews in his first big league Spring Training camp with the Cubs.

"The kid won't listen," Matthews would tell people.

Some coaches decided to leave Fox alone. Not Keller.

"I'll talk to him and he might not want to hear it," said Keller, who joined the big league team this month for a few weeks. "He knew where I was coming from all the time."

The change began at the end of last season at Double-A Tennessee, where Fox batted .307. It continued in the winter when he played for highly regarded Licey in the Dominican Republic. How different a hitter is Fox now? When he hit a grand slam Aug. 29 against the Mets, Fox connected on an 0-2 offspeed pitch.

"That would've been very difficult for me to do a year ago," Fox said.

"You knew when it came time to play, he was going to compete," Keller said. "You knew he was going to be a hitter. It just takes time."

Fox, who heads into the homestand ((11-for-50 in his last 19 games)) still has a lot to learn.

"I've got to be more consistent," he said. "That's what this game is. I have been consistent at every level through trial and error, and I feel that's the last thing I have to do is be consistent at this level. I've shown I can play here and hit here, but now I have to show I can do it every day."

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Rich Harden (9-8, 4.10 ERA)
Harden was effective in his five innings against the Mets on Saturday, allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits while striking out 10. A high pitch count, however, prevented him from going further into the game. Harden is 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five career starts against the Reds. This is the fourth time this season Harden will face Cincinnati. He won his first two starts against the Reds before dropping an Aug. 5 decision, 4-0. In that game, Harden allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings. The current Reds roster can't speak to much success against Harden, as it is just 4-for-43 lifetime against the right-hander. Joey Votto and Scott Rolen each have home runs against Harden.

CIN: RHP Johnny Cueto (9-10, 4.39 ERA)
Cueto allowed three hits and a run over six innings at Atlanta on Sunday, striking out nine in a no-decision. He walked two and hit two batters, throwing 107 pitches in his second start since coming off the disabled list. Cueto got a victory against Pittsburgh on Aug. 31 to snap a six-game losing streak. He worked into the sixth in that game, the only run scoring on a homer to lead off that inning. Cueto gave up just two other hits and struck out five while walking one.

Soriano most likely will not play in this homestand to continue to strengthen his left knee. The Cubs are trying to determine if Soriano should have surgery before the regular season ends so he can begin rehab. ... Infielder Andres Blanco (hamstring) could be back in action Friday. ... Catcher Koyie Hill is hosting a fundraiser Dec. 5 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Kansas at Wichita's Hartman Arena. There will be a silent auction, and fans can bid on such items as the chance to be bat boy for a day at a Cubs game. Other items includ autographed bats and balls. Country music star Tracy Byrd will perform. Go to www.bigwishkansas.com for more info. ... The documentary "We Believe" that followed the Cubs in 2008 will not be released in theaters until spring 2010.

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Up next
• Saturday: Cubs (Randy Wells, 10-8, 2.84) vs. Reds (Homer Bailey, 5-4, 5.60), 12:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 11-8, 3.17) vs. Reds (TBD), 1:20 p.m. CT
• Monday: Cubs (TBD) vs. Brewers (Jeff Suppan, 6-8, 4.97), 7:05 p.m. CT

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.