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03/02/10 5:30 PM ET

Breakout year on tap for Fukudome?

Cubs skipper Piniella says outfielder has found new comfort

MESA, Ariz. -- Kosuke Fukudome made a great first impression on Opening Day 2008 when he went 3-for-3 for the Cubs, including a game-tying three-run homer off Milwaukee's Eric Gagne in the ninth.

Fans in the right-field bleachers waved Japanese flags and wore headbands to celebrate Fukudome, but he wasn't able to keep up that pace. In his first season, he batted .257. Last year, he hit .259.

"It's a learning process, and to compound that, to learn a new country, it takes a while," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

"Now, he's passed his freshman and sophomore years, and he's a junior now, and he's ready to go," Piniella said. "Let's hope he has a nice breakout year where he can hit .280, .285, drive in 75, 80 runs and play the outstanding right field that he does and help us win."

Fukudome won two batting titles in Japan and compiled a career .305 average there. He's said he'd like to bat .300 in the Major Leagues.

"I don't care about power numbers," Piniella said. "I care about on-base percentage, getting on base, driving in runs, handle the bat, do those sort of things. The power numbers will take care of themselves."

Fukudome and Ryan Theriot will be tested in the 1-2 spots in the batting order this spring, with Theriot leading off Thursday in the Cactus League opener against Oakland. So far, Piniella has seen lots of positives from the outfielder.

"He's working hard, made a few changes with our new hitting coach [Rudy Jaramillo], and I think he feels comfortable," Piniella said. "I think the move back to right field will help him, and we're expecting a better year from him.

"There's no reason for 'The Fook' to hit in the .250s," Piniella said. "Now that he's had two years of experience here, knows the league a lot more, it's time to take it a step forward for him."

Piniella is the one who came up with the nickname, "The Fook." Fukudome's interpreter, Hiro Aoyama, said the outfielder likes it, too. A Japanese reporter asked Piniella on Tuesday if there were any special meaning to it.

"No, not at all," Piniella said. "I like the name. It's easy to say."

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