No. 1 bats No. 1: Fukudome leads off
Outfielder atop lineup for first time in Majors, replaces Johnson
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Cubs have a new leadoff man.
Manager Lou Piniella decided to insert Kosuke Fukudome into the No. 1 spot on Wednesday, and may keep the Japanese outfielder there while Alfonso Soriano heals from a broken bone in his left hand.
Soriano is expected to be sidelined a minimum of six weeks, and the Cubs have rotated players into the No. 1 spot, relying on Reed Johnson. But Johnson's back stiffened on him after Tuesday's game, and he was available for limited duty Wednesday.
Fukudome went 1-for-4 with an RBI double, scored and drew a walk. He also made the last out of the Cubs' 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay when he was called out on strikes to end the ninth with a runner on.
"He did fine," Piniella said of the outfielder's debut at the top spot.
Piniella made sure he checked with Fukudome first.
"I had a nice conversation with him, and wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with it," Piniella said of the outfielder, who has hit second, fourth, fifth and sixth so far. "I think until we get Soriano back in the lineup, we'll keep [Fukudome] right in the one-hole. He's got patience, he's got good on-base percentage, he's got a good eye.
"I don't really want to play around with the leadoff spot too much. Right now, we've got him there, and hopefully we can keep him there. I think one of the things is [Jim] Edmonds is swinging the bat out of the five-hole a little bit. Fukudome liked the idea and he's comfortable with it, so we'll go with it."
Fukudome has led off in Japan before.
"There's nothing I need to change," he said through interpreter Ryuji Araki.
In describing what he's looking for, Fukudome sounds like the right player for the job. The outfielder ranks among the National League leaders in on-base percentage at .403 (teammate Aramis Ramirez is at .407).
"He can fit in a few places in the lineup," Piniella said. "He puts the ball in play, he's got a good eye, has a high on-base percentage, makes the pitcher throw pitches -- yes, it's the description of a leadoff hitter."
As to whether Fukudome will be the Cubs' leadoff man at the end of the season has yet to be determined.
"Right now, we lost our leadoff hitter, and not for two weeks," Piniella said. "If it was two weeks, we could patch it up a little bit, but this is a long time. Until we get Soriano back, my intentions are to keep [Fukudome] in the leadoff spot and let him go."
Fukudome may fit the job description, but he didn't want to talk about his new role.
"Ask me about lineups, and you will not get the answers you want," he said.
As far as Johnson, his status is day to day. Mark DeRosa started in left field on Wednesday. If Johnson can't go Friday against White Sox lefty John Danks in the first game of the Interleague series at Wrigley Field, Piniella may have to get even more creative.
"Let's see how Reed Johnson is, first of all," Piniella said. "If not, we might have to put Fukudome in center field, play DeRosa in right, and put [Matt] Murton in left and [Ronny] Cedeno at second and go play."
Johnson showed improvement on Wednesday. He was injured when he crashed into Tampa Bay first baseman Willy Aybar in the ninth inning as he tried to beat a throw on a bunt.
"He bunted on his own," Piniella said of the play, which ended the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the Rays. "I wouldn't give that sign. He thought he could catch the third baseman napping a little bit. He bunted just a little hard. If it had been a little more toward the line, I think he would've been successful. It was a good effort. Their young player [third baseman Evan Longoria] made a nice play."
Does Piniella like seeing a player think like Johnson did in the ninth?
"I'd rather see a three-run homer," Piniella said. "But yeah, the thinking part is fine."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.