Fukudome looks to build off strong finish

Kosuke Fukudome had a strong start and finish last year, but he struggled mid-season. AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome enters spring training with the Chicago Cubs for the fourth and possibly last time as he completes the last season of a four-year, $48 million contract.

The Cubs, who owe him $13.5 million for 2011, tried in vain to move the Japanese outfielder after the 2010 season.

Cubs manager Mike Quade will use Fukudome as a lead-off man/right fielder against some right-handed pitching.

"I was thrilled with the way he finished [the 2010 season]," Quade said. "His first year, with the start he had, I think everyone had illusions of grandeur. It's not that easy. I just want to see him build on what he did last year."

Fukudome had his hottest months in April and August last year, hitting .344 in April and .365 in August. The other four months weren't so good: .253 in May, .189 in June, .162 in July and .210 in September.

Fukudome had his highest batting average as a Cub overall last season, hitting. 263. He also had a career high with 13 home runs.

However, he scored a career low 45 runs and drove in a career low 44. It must be pointed out that he had over 140 fewer at-bats in 2010 than he did the previous two seasons.

"It was nice to finish strong," he said through an interpreter. "But I do need to continue what I did throughout the year."

At 33, Fukudome is looking forward to playing in the U.S. for as long as he could be productive.

"The Chicago Cubs are the first team I played for in the United States, so if I can stay, that would be great," he said. "But that's not my decision to make. As long as I could play in the majors, I'd like to stay in the U.S."

Fukudome's disappointing career has forced the Cubs to look for run production elsewhere. The Cubs signed Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract after Fukudome failed to be the run producer they expected him to be.

"I'm definitely not satisfied where I was, but the bottom line is I'm getting better little by little," he said. "I just need to put all the things together and get better at it."

Fukudome will battle Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano for playing time.

"The performance will dictate a lot of that," Quade said. "As Colvin develops, we'll see how that development goes. Marlon had a marvelous year last year. I'd like to see Soriano have a better year, and Fukudome as well. You have to stay flexible. This is why you get paid to do this job. These are tough decisions."