Fukudome is on the verge of a benching

CHICAGO – The Japanese phenom has stopped hitting and may soon find himself on the bench.

“We need the young man to hit,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Kosuke Fukudome, whose early-season heroics have become a distant memory as his average dropped under .270 following a 0-for-4 performance in Sunday night’s 6-2 Chicago victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cubs won 6 of 9 games on this homestand, taking two of three from the Pirates, Astros and Cardinals. But Fukudome, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal with the Cubs in December, had just 3 hits in 28 at-bats (.107) on the homestand, and Piniella gave every indication he is ready to sit him, perhaps as soon as Tuesday night, when the Cubs open a three-game set in Atlanta against the Braves.

“He does such a good job in right field we hate to take him out of the lineup,” Piniella said. “At the same time, we have other people swinging the bats. We’ll give him every opportunity.”

Piniella exonerated Fukudome from a first-inning double play, saying the Cubs botched a hit-and-run. But in his next three at-bats, Fukudome popped out and twice grounded out to the pitcher.

His slump runs deeper than just a week. On June 27, Fukudome was batting .301. That was the last time his average was .300 or better. In 37 games since, he is batting just .209 (27 for 129), and has 35 strikeouts while walking just 15 times.

“He’s not tired, he’s not hurting,” Piniella said. “The only thing I see is that he is not taking as many pitches. They may be throwing him more strikes.

“But the bottom line is results.”

Piniella could replace Fukudome with Reed Johnson, who hit .583 (7 for 12) on the homestand and is batting .393 since coming off the disabled list July 3 (he’d been sidelined with back spasms). Another option is to move Mark DeRosa from second base to right field and play Mike Fontenot, who is batting .354 in his last 33 games, at second.

Gordon Edes is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gordon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Aug 11, 2008