Cubs’ Kyuji Fujikawa gets early start on first season in U.S.
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com February 9, 2013 6:34PM
New Chicago Cubs right-handed pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa is introduced at Wrigley Field today. Friday, December 7, 2012. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: February 9, 2013 7:43PM
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs pitchers and catchers don’t start official spring-training workouts until Tuesday, but the team’s newest relief ace, Kyuji Fujikawa, already has put in three days of bullpen work.
‘‘Yeah, I’m ready,’’ he said Saturday with a smile, in English before his interpreter had a chance to translate.
Meanwhile, $9.8 million closer Carlos Marmol has little reason to say much of anything with a smile. He’s expected to arrive Sunday night.
Already the object of trade efforts early in the offseason, Marmol’s status as closer was brought into question again in December, when Fujikawa — the former Japanese All-Star closer — was signed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal.
Now he goes to spring training with the cloud of a domestic-abuse allegation in his native Dominican Republic dogging him. The case was sent to the country’s high court Friday, even as team officials put faith in his innocence. His lawyers filed counterclaims of extortion and blackmail by the alleged victim.
Fujikawa claims he hasn’t heard about Marmol’s widely reported issues. He allowed his interpreter, Ryo Shinkawa, to deliver that answer.
Still, it’s almost impossible to think Fujikawa hasn’t considered the likelihood of becoming the Cubs’ closer in the short term, even after Cubs brass repeatedly has insisted Marmol is the guy.
Fujikawa, 32, has averaged 34 saves the last six seasons for the Hanshin Tigers, with more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings and a WHIP under .900.
‘‘The decision’s not up to myself, but the coaches,’’ he said through Shinkawa. ‘‘My job is to get outs. As I do that, I think I’ll try to make it a tougher decision for the coaches.’’
To that end, Fujikawa already has made the commitment not only to arrive in Mesa a week early, but also to skip the World Baseball Classic after pitching for Japan’s two-time champion, though he says that started as a request by the Cubs.
He also decided to leave his family in Japan as he plays out his first American spring training.
‘‘To make the successful transition, I need to concentrate on baseball,’’ said Fujikawa, who has Darwin Barney and David DeJesus to his immediate left and right, respectively, in the clubhouse to help.
‘‘Nice guys,’’ he said, in English, of the pair.
The earliest days of the transition have gone well, maybe in small part because of his ability to pick up some English, especially as it relates to his new pitching coach, Chris Bosio.
‘‘He’s nice, but not a lot of Japanese words yet,’’ Fujikawa said through Shinkawa.
He shouldn’t count on many from his new manager, Dale Sveum, either.
Fujikawa said he’s grateful for a new rule that allows interpreters to go to the mound with coaches and managers during games.
‘‘It should definitely help,’’ he said.
No word yet from Sveum on whether he’ll have Shinkawa handle any pitching changes.
‘‘Good idea,’’ Fujikawa said in English, smiling.