Cubs have specific role for Fukudome

Cubs use Fukudome in specific role

CHICAGO -- In a perfect lineup, Kosuke Fukudome would probably bat second. The Cubs' outfielder has shown he can handle the bat well, and his ability to reach base is more conducive to someone who hits No. 2.

Fukudome notched his first sacrifice hit on Sunday and has a ways to go to catch Bert Campaneris, who totaled 40 in 1977, the most by a Major League hitter since 1960.

"He's on his own," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Monday. "He's laid down a few bunts at opportune times. I think if he were not hitting in the fifth spot, he'd do more -- if he were hitting at the top part of the lineup, for instance."

The Cubs need the Japanese outfielder to bat fifth to break up the right-handed bats in the lineup. He's done well there, too. Fukudome is batting .353 with runners in scoring position, and .385 in close and late situations.

"He's got real good hand-eye coordination, and his natural swing seems more up the middle, left-center," Piniella said. "I think that's pretty natural to him. His bat stays in the hitting area for a pretty good period of time. It seems it's easier for him to lift the ball in the air to left-center field than to the pull field. That's OK, because once the weather warms up and the wind starts blowing out to left field, it should help him hit the ball out of the ballpark."

So far, Fukudome has played in all but one game. Piniella still has to get a read on the right fielder to gauge when he takes a day off.

"I know the schedule in Japan is shorter, and once this warm weather sets in, it'll get nice and hot here in Chicago, so we'll have to give him time off to keep him as fresh as possible," Piniella said. "If I can get him scheduled to get in 140, 145 games, it'll be pretty nice."

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