Hoffpauir starts in lineup shakeup
Hot-hitting rookie gets nod in right over slumping Fukudome
CINCINNATI -- Micah Hoffpauir started in right field Saturday night, and Kosuke Fukudome sat as Cubs manager Lou Piniella tried to find the right combination for the final three weeks of play.
"These last 20 games, I'm going to try to play a lineup we can win with," Piniella said. "I've played everybody all year, everybody's had opportunities over here. Now, we're going to try to play a lineup that's going to win a baseball game that particular night.
"These guys want to stay in the lineup? Swing the bats," Piniella said. "The opportunity is there for a kid like Hoffpauir. Reed Johnson gave us a spark earlier, and we're going to give him a chance and see what he does. We'll mix and match.
"We've got to start scoring some runs on a little more consistent basis than we have in the past week," he said. "Then we have to get our rotation set and get our bullpen set. Let me tell you, when it rains, it pours. Well, it's pouring right now."
That's what happens when you lose six in a row as the Cubs have entering Saturday's game versus the Cincinnati Reds.
Fukudome was 1-for-9 in his last three games after hitting .193 in 28 games in August. The Cubs have tried to shorten his stride in hopes of getting him to return to his early season form. He batted .279 in the first half, and was hitting .223 in the second half.
"He's a good player," Piniella said of the Cubs' first Japanese player. "The first year is an adjustment of sorts. At the same time, from talking to a few people who have been here for awhile, sometimes the first year with the Cubs is an adjustment period. I think he's going to be fine, but it's been a struggle for him. He's the type of player, type of person who will battle through it and get much better."
Hoffpauir had a stellar year at Triple-A Iowa, setting career marks with 25 homers and 100 RBIs in 71 games. He missed the first month of the season because of a strained left oblique and finished hitting .362 for the year.
"We'll see if he can give us a little bit of a lift," Piniella said.
A year ago September, the Cubs did the same thing with catcher Geovany Soto, who won the Pacific Coast League MVP honors. Soto's now the regular catcher.
"You look at [Hoffpauir's] production at Triple-A, and he obviously deserves an opportunity," Piniella said. "We did the same thing with Soto last year. We came to the conclusion that he would be our No. 1 catcher this year, and it's worked quite well. Hoffpauir, we're giving him an opportunity now to get some at-bats and stay in the lineup and see what he can do. It's up to him.
"We could use a lift offensively," Piniella continued. "I took Kosuke out today and [Jim] Edmonds, but there are other people struggling, too."
Hoffpauir was looking forward to the challenge.
"It gives you a little boost and makes you want to go out and show [Piniella] he's not mistaken," Hoffpauir said. "The last couple years have been pretty good for me, and hopefully, I can do it in the Major Leagues and show it's not a fluke."
What's been the difference for Hoffpauir?
"Nothing really," the 28-year-old Texan said. "It's just kind of a maturing factor for me. I'm just going through the same process I've gone through in years past. I've come into my own, I hope."
Piniella wasn't sure how long he would go with Hoffpauir, but wanted to give him a fair chance.
"I'm open to production," Piniella said. "The people who are getting the job done, they're the ones who will be getting the bulk of playing time hitting-wise and pitching-wise. I have been fair. I've given everybody opportunities all year. This is the time now where people getting the job done are people who are going to play, it's plain and simple."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.