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Cubs’ Fukudome confident he can keep it going after red-hot April

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



LOS ANGELES — Kosuke Fukudome hasn’t turned into a pumpkin yet, but according to North Side urban legend, he should be getting a little orange around the gills any minute now, with three days already passed since April.

Not that new Cubs manager Mike Quade is buying it this time around.

‘‘I’m expecting him to stay hot for six months,’’ Quade said.

That’s a long shot if history means anything, considering the Cubs’ hottest April hitter for the last four seasons has also been one of its most inconsistent hitters over the five months that have followed each of the last three.

Fukudome went 0-for-3 on Tuesday night in the Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, dropping his batting average to .358.

But if Quade’s right, it might go a long way toward the Cubs having any chance of getting out of the quicksand their season seems to have slipped into. Because if Fukudome can’t be counted on as a platoon leadoff man, the options fall off dramatically after that.

And the top two spots in the batting order have been two of the few highlights of the first four weeks of the season.

But Fukudome’s struggles after April have been so pronounced, and so reliable, that as he stepped to the plate on the final day of the month Saturday with the Cubs looking for a go-ahead hit in the ninth, one press box wag asked out loud, ‘‘Wonder if he’s got one more left in him this month?’’

To which another responded, ‘‘It’s already May in Japan.’’

Fukudome then bounced into a fielder’s choice to the pitcher.

But Fukudome — whose .383 April this time was his best yet — seems confident this will be the year he reverses the career trend, if not the year he lives up to his $48 million contract.

‘‘I haven’t done anything really in particular to change it,’’ he said, ‘‘but this year with Mike Quade as a manager he has been preparing lineups for future games and planning. I know if I’m playing the next day and that I have to prepare.

‘‘Because of that, I might be more mentally ready for the games.’’

Does it really make that much of a difference, having a manager who tells him a day or more ahead of time when he’s playing instead of one who lets him know by posting a lineup a few hours before the game?

Fukudome didn’t need his team translator’s help on that one, nodding at the question.

The fact Fukudome is a platoon player — leading off against right-handers, usually sitting against righties — makes the playing time especially predictable and also keeps Fukudome more rested.

His April at-bats have declined each season he has been with the Cubs, although a weeklong hamstring injury was the reason for this year’s decline.

But can all of that really reverse a 100-point difference between his April hitting (.345) and his post-April hitting (.244)?

‘‘One thing I might be able to say [about the cause in the past] is that after Opening Day, with continuously playing, sometimes I got confused with something [mechanically] and I’d keep going with it. And then get tired and things like that.

‘‘This year I did get injured a little bit, and I had a little time off to regroup myself and get everything together, so that way I could keep my swing as good as it was.’’

He says he feels healthy now and in a good place with his swing — although, his first-inning grounder Tuesday made him 1-for-5 in May.

‘‘There are ups and downs in a season, but the difference is that people are helping me,’’ said Fukudome, who has adjusted well to hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo’s style. ‘‘If I’m not doing so well, Rudy or somebody else really helps me bounce back.’’

Quade said he’s happy to see
Fukudome using the opposite field more often in the early going, too.

‘‘My sense is he feels real good about the way he’s playing, the way he’s swinging,’’ Quade said. ‘‘And his [improved] finish last year [makes us] very optimistic about him being able to have a good year from start to finish. Time will tell.’’

Said Fukudome: ‘‘I don’t predict anything. I’m just going to play.’’



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