Daily Herald
Fukudome now a problem for Cubs
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 10/4/2008 12:04 AM

Call it the Fukudome Flash Point.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella reached it Thursday night at Wrigley Field, after another sickly looking performance at the plate by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome.

Fukudome went 0-for-4 in the Cubs' 10-3 loss to the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League division series and got booed lustily by the home crowd at the end of the night.

That made Fukudome 0-for-8 over the first two games, continuing a slide that began well before he played in the All-Star Game. Piniella, who said Fukudome's offensive woes were a "mystery" before the game, finally had enough.

"From now on, I don't want to hear about Fukudome anymore as far as whether he's going to play or not," Piniella said. "I'm going to play (Mike Fontenot) or Reed Johnson or somebody else, and that's the end of that story. The kid is struggling, and there's no sense of sending him out there anymore."

Truth to be told this flash point has been simmering since as far back as spring training, when the sharp-eyed Piniella could see this "sensation" out of Japan had some holes in his offensive games.

Guess what? Scouts from other teams saw those same holes, too, and it wasn't long before other teams began exploiting them.

Month by month, the numbers plummeted. In June, Fukudome hit .264. In July, it was .236. In August, it was .193. By the time September rolled around, he was seeing major bench time, and his on-base percentage had fallen to .359 by the end of the season.

The OBP was a huge part of Fukudome's game in April and May, when was given a lot of credit - including in media circles - for helping to change the Cubs' approach at the plate from that of a wildly swinging team to one that suddenly found discipline, took walks and scored more runs than anybody in the National League.

Now, the Cubs have a major problem.

General manager Jim Hendry signed Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million contract last December, and it was ballyhooed as the Cubs' long-awaited return to the Pacific Rim.

Can you see Piniella watching this for four years? He won't last another four minutes with the left-handed hitting Fukudome falling away from pitches, even from right-handed pitchers.

Hendry has pointed to Moises Alou, who flopped badly after the Cubs signed him to a free-agent deal before the 2002 season before he rebounded in '03 and helped them to the 2003 NL Central title.

But Alou already was an established major-league star who already had put up MVP-caliber numbers before coming to the Cubs.

Fukudome has done no such thing, and at 31, he may be entering the downside of his career.

The Cubs can make the Alou comparisons all they want, but it's just as likely Fukudome will turn out to be Todd Hundley or Jacque Jones (who outperformed Fukudome at the plate) or Mike Remlinger or LaTroy Hawkins, to name some free-agent disappointments of the last few years.

This one may require a meeting of the minds this winter, among Hendry, Piniella and Fukudome. Perhaps the Cubs will even allow Fukudome to bring a hitting coach with him over from Japan next spring if it makes him more comfortable.

The flash point has been reached with a manager who is signed through 2010. The organization's job is to act and get Fukudome turned in the right direction now.

bmiles@dailyherald.com