December 17, 2014

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New Indian Fukudome excited to be in playoff hunt

CLEVELAND – The Indians were one of the teams listed in the no-trade clause in Kosuke Fukudome’s contract with the Chicago Cubs. But according to the Osaki, Japan, native, the prospect of playing for a contender was too good to pass up.

Fukudome, 34, agreed to waive the no-trade clause Thursday and the Indians acquired the outfielder for minor leaguers Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith.

“Cleveland was the first team that had interest in me,” Fukudome said through an interpreter prior to making his Indians debut Friday as the starting right fielder. “The Indians are competing for a division title. It’s definitely a great motivation for me to be good. This is something I want to do.”

Fukudome said he received no compensation for waiving the no-trade clause, choosing to come to a second-place team, while leaving a fourth-place club in Chicago. He hit .273 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 87 games for the Cubs and ranked 14th in the National League with a .374 on-base percentage.

With Shin-Soo Choo (broken left thumb) out until at least mid-August, Fukudome will fill in as the regular in right field.

“He makes us better immediately,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “We’re getting an everyday player who’s a veteran presence in the lineup. He’s here to play. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

Fukudome will bat sixth for the Indians after hitting in the leadoff spot for the Cubs.

“We’ve got that covered here with (Michael) Brantley,” Acta said. “Where (Fukudome) can help me the most is that spot. In that part of our lineup, we need some professional at-bats.

“You can look at the home runs and RBIs, but in the National League, you lead off the game with no one on base and then you hit behind the pitcher.”

Fukudome, who went 0-for-4 in his Tribe debut, said he has no preference where he hits in the lineup.

“It doesn’t matter hitting sixth or hitting leadoff,” he said. “I just need to do the job.”

It will be Fukudome’s first experience in the AL after spending his first three seasons in the big leagues with the Cubs, who signed him out of Japan to a four-year contract worth $48 million.

“I don’t know until I play,” Fukudome said of the difference between the two leagues.

On the majority of days, the Indians outfield will consist of Fukudome, Ezequiel Carrera in center and Brantley in left. When Choo returns, Fukudome will most likely shift to center, though Acta would not confirm that.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Acta said.

Fukudome’s acquisition could be a sign the Indians are not overly confident Grady Sizemore will make it back from injury. Sizemore is on the DL with another knee injury and also underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia July 21.

Acta, whose injury-depleted offense has struggled for the majority of the season, said he spoke with Fukudome about not trying to do too much for his new club.

“I told him that I wasn’t expecting him to carry this team on his shoulders and to just be Kosuke,” Acta said. “‘Give me quality at-bats in the sixth spot.’ It was a very good conversation.”

Indians fans weren’t enamored by the acquisition of Fukudome, who was largely a bust in Chicago. But Acta said he expects his team to make more moves prior to Sunday’s trading deadline.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I expect a lot out of life, but, yeah. (The front office) is non-stop working. We’ll see. It’s a complicated process.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.