Fukudome Earning High Marks

Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome arrived at spring training early and to the greatest fanfare since the days when Sammy Sosa would arrive fashionably late. Fukudome got to work right away, and the Cubs already were talking about his swing and his work ethic.

The only question now becomes where to hit Fukudome in the lineup. Manager Lou Piniella repeatedly has said Fukudome can hit second, third or fifth. While with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, Fukudome batted third. However, first baseman Derrek Lee holds down that spot in the Cubs lineup.

It's most likely Fukudome will bat fifth. Piniella's thinking is that the left-handed-hitting Fukudome will fit nicely in a heart of the order than can use a left-handed bat.

Fukudome has a lifetime on-base percentage of .397, and he put up an OBP of .443 last year during a season that was cut to 81 games because of an elbow injury that required surgery. All sides say the elbow is fine now.

As of now, left fielder Alfonso Soriano bats first, despite a relatively low lifetime OBP of .327. Fukudome's stats might look good behind Soriano, but the Cubs also have been trying since December's winter meetings to land Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, without success.

In an ideal world, the Cubs could have Roberts lead off and have Fukudome bat second, dropping Soriano to fifth, where his home run power could drive in more runs than the 70 he knocked in last year. The problem with that is that Soriano has stated he prefers to bat first. If that holds, he would lead off, with shortstop Ryan Theriot following in the second spot, and Lee, Ramirez and Fukudome forming the middle of the order.


--INF Alex Cintron moved across town, as the former White Sox utility man signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. He batted .243 in 2007 while seeing action at second base, shortstop and third base.

--Manager Lou Piniella has confirmed only RHP Carlos Zambrano and LHPs Ted Lilly and Rich Hill as having spots in the rotation. That means RHP Ryan Dempster is fighting for a rotation spot with RHP Jon Lieber, RHP Jason Marquis and LHP Sean Marshall. If Dempster doesn't show enough in spring training to convince Piniella he can be a starter again, Piniella wouldn't rule out Dempster moving back into bullpen. Piniella called it a "win-win" situation for the Cubs either way, citing Dempster's willingness to succeed as a starter along with his success as a closer.

--LF Alfonso Soriano arrived to camp one day before position players were scheduled to report. He said he had been running at 75 percent in the Dominican Republic and will use the early part of the spring training to test his right leg. Soriano landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career last August when he suffered a badly strained right quadriceps. In April, he missed five games with a strained left hamstring. His stolen-base total dropped from 41 with Washington in 2006 to 19 last year.

--LHP Rich Hill will be the Cubs' No. 4 starter. Hill is one of three pitchers to have spots sewn up. The others are staff ace Carlos Zambrano and LHP Ted Lilly. The only reason Hill will open the season as the No. 4 starter and not the No. 3 starter is that manager Lou Piniella wants to separate his lefties.

--RHP Kerry Wood showed up at spring training 100 percent healthy for the first time in several years. Wood came back last year from non-surgical shoulder rehab. He pitched in 22 games beginning in August. He was 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA and saw action in two playoff games. Wood said his shoulder feels fine.

--C Geovany Soto, a rookie, figures to catch 120-125 games this year, according to manager Lou Piniella. The manager said he likes Soto's confidence but that he also wants him to try to hit more to right field and right-center rather than trying to pull everything. Soto batted .389 in 18 games with the Cubs last year and earned a spot on the playoff roster after his September call-up. At Class AAA Iowa, he batted .353 with 26 homers and 109 RBIs. There are no questions about his defense.

--RF Kosuke Fukudome is earning high marks in the early going in spring training for his outfield work. The Cubs say they like his footwork. Manager Lou Piniella termed him "smooth" in the outfield. Fukudome underwent season-ending elbow surgery last year, but he's been known for a strong throwing arm, and the Cubs say the elbow is fine.

--C Henry Blanco is back in camp and healthy. He suffered a cervical disk injury last year, limiting him to 22 games. The Cubs view Blanco as a mentor to Geovany Soto and as a good handler of pitchers.

BY THE NUMBERS: 87 -- Saves for RHP Ryan Dempster, ranking him fourth on the Cubs' all-time list. He is 87-for-101, with the 86.1 success rate placing him second behind Randy Myers' (86.8) in team history.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we are going to win the World Series, I really do. I wouldn't come show up here and work as hard as I did and everybody work as hard as they did to not believe that." -- RHP Ryan Dempster.

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