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Fukudome at center of offensive surge

Fukudome at center of surge

CHICAGO -- Kosuke Fukudome doesn't seem to mind all the attention.

Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and the Washington Post all have dispatched writers to do features on the rookie outfielder, while the Cubs' Japanese media contingent seems to grow with each additional base hit.

"It's a good thing that people want to know about me," Fukudome said, through interpreter Ryuji Araki.

The outfielder may need help understanding questions, but he's having no trouble with Major League pitching. Fukudome is batting .357, leads the Major Leagues in pitches per plate appearance and has reached base in seven straight plate appearances, extended on Tuesday by a 3-for-3 day and two walks.

"Even on days when I don't get a hit, if I get on base to help out the team, it's a good thing," Fukudome said.

He has made a huge impact on the Cubs offense, which leads the National League and ranks second in the Major Leagues in on-base percentage. When was the last time you heard that about a Cubs team?

"When you're patient and working yourself into good counts, you'll have more guys on base, whether it's by a walk or a single or a double," said Chicago's Reed Johnson, who also has contributed to the patient approach. "I've been on a lot of teams where we get guys in scoring position, and we're the ones with the pressure -- that shouldn't be the case. It should be the other team feeling the pressure. That's the mentality we have."

Johnson has done exactly what a leadoff hitter should do as he fills in for injured Alfonso Soriano. Fukudome is doing exactly what he did in Japan, where he won two batting titles.

"He gives us a really good, professional bat in the middle of the lineup," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He works the count, he gets his hits, he can drive in some runs, plus he does a really nice job in right field. It's been a win-win all the way around for us."

It also seems to be affecting the others.

"We've added two players who are very patient and very selective in Johnson and Fukudome, and we've got two or three or four other hitters working the count pretty good right now," Piniella said. "Let's be pleased with it, but we've got a long season ahead of us, and we have to improve in areas."

Not everything is perfect at Clark and Addison streets. A couple relievers need to be sharper, the starting pitchers need to get deeper into games.

"Let's just keep swinging the bats," Piniella said of his team, which has outscored its opponents 41-9 in the last four games. "We're in a good groove right now. Let's enjoy it."

Fukudome is a perfect example. Some say the strike zone is bigger here than in Japan.

"If I try to adjust to the strike zone in the United States, I'll lose what I've been doing," Fukudome said, "so I'm sticking to the strike zone I have."

Fans chant Fukudome's name when he comes to the plate, and many wear headbands with Japanese lettering. He's probably the only player who weighs his bats to make sure they are 920 grams (or roughly 31 1/2 ounces).

The key phrase: kotoshi koso. It's the closest Japanese translation for "It's going to happen."

"Everybody respects how I do and likes what I do," Fukudome said. "I think it's a good thing."

So do the Cubs.

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

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