Sasaki encouraged by Fukudome's progress

Sasaki encouraged by Fukudome's progress

CHICAGO -- Kosuke Fukudome's hitting coach, Kyosuke Sasaki, predicted this spring that the Cubs outfielder will finish this season batting above .300. On Thursday, Sasaki said he's encouraged by his star pupil.

What Sasaki started working on this offseason -- and what Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has continued -- is to have Fukudome lower his body in his stance and be more compact.

"At the end of last year, just watching the video, I was thinking that he probably should lower himself down a little bit," Sasaki said Thursday through Fukudome's interpreter Hiro Aoyama. "Then, at the end of the season, he came to Osaka where I live. I started to talk about it and he was actually thinking the exact same thing. We were in agreement. Then I started working with him about it."

This offseason, the two worked for five straight days, hitting three hours a day. Sasaki was in Mesa, Ariz., for one week during Spring Training to continue the lesson. Now, it's just a matter of reinforcing it.

What's good is that Jaramillo and Sasaki are on the same page.

"What I am thinking is the same thing he's thinking," Sasaki said. "I'm thinking Kosuke is comfortable around him."

Fukudome came through on Thursday in the Cubs' 13-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He hit his first grand slam since coming to the U.S. in the eighth inning, and now is batting .328. One year ago, the outfielder got off to a good start and hit .338 in April but finished at .259. In two seasons in the U.S. Major Leagues, Fukudome has compiled a .258 batting average. In nine years in Japan, he hit .305, winning a batting title in 2006, when he hit .351.

Sasaki predicts this will be a good year.

"Just looking at him, he's definitely getting better," Sasaki said. "As a batter, I think everybody has to be ready for the quick approach, and he is ready for it, so I think it's definitely a better situation for him."

So will he finish over .300?

"I definitely think he is going to hit over .300," Sasaki said.