Notes: Piniella mulls over middle lineup
Dempster to start Cactus opener; Fukudome catching up
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella is considering tweaking the lineup and putting together a 3-4-5 combination of Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Lee is OK with that.
"I've been asked about it, and I told them I don't care where I hit," Lee said Thursday. "I've hit fourth before."
One of the issues to be resolved this spring is where to insert Fukudome into the Cubs lineup. His left-handed bat is very welcome because the Cubs have an overload of right-handed hitters. Alfonso Soriano would still lead off, followed by Ryan Theriot.
"It gives me a chance to get deeper in the lineup, power-wise, in the fourth and fifth holes," Piniella said. "We can break up the right-handers that way, and we can bunch up all our speed."
Fukudome has batted third in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons but has said he will bat wherever Piniella wants. Right now, Piniella is testing his options on scratch paper. The games don't start for another week.
"I've played around and fiddled with this thing in my mind," Piniella said. "We've got to get this young man comfortable here. He was our key acquisition over the winter. He being successful will make us more successful. I know he can hit second, but I don't think he serves a purpose for us second."
Piniella said he hadn't talked to Lee about the prospect, but others apparently have and the Cubs first baseman was amenable to the switch. Lee is 378-for-1,206 (.313) batting third with 65 homers, and 118-for-471 (.251) with 20 homers hitting fourth.
"I want [Fukudome] to be comfortable," Lee said. "If he's comfortable batting third, I want him to be comfortable. He's the one making the transition, I'm not making the transition. I don't hit any different if I'm batting second or fifth.
"They've asked me, and I've said I don't care," Lee said.
Cowboy up: The Cubs won't waste any time seeing if Ryan Dempster can fit in the rotation. He'll start the Cactus League opener Feb. 28 against San Francisco.
The right-hander threw to hitters early Thursday, and Piniella said 20 of Dempster's 25 pitches were strikes.
Dempster opened Spring Training by predicting the Cubs will win the World Series, and Baltimore's Kevin Millar had a response to that.
"I'm guaranteeing a 2008 World Series," Millar said. "Everybody else is. I'm going on the record right now. We're going to shock the world. I don't know who Dempster is in Chicago but if he thinks he's going to win the World Series, he has to come through us first."
Millar had one more prediction: "I'm going deep off Ryan Dempster."
"It's a pretty bold prediction," Dempster said Thursday. "If he wants to do that, tell him I welcome the challenge. It'd be fun -- mano a mano. We play them this year, right? I'll welcome that any day of the week. Hopefully I'll be scheduled to start then."
Maybe the wind will be blowing out at Wrigley?
"He's going to need it," Dempster said.
Dempster and Millar will face off when the Orioles play the Cubs at Wrigley Field June 24-26 in Interleague Play this season.
Konnichiwa: Fukudome faced Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood on Thursday, and wasn't taking as many pitches as he did the day before.
Fukudome swung at the first three pitches he saw from Zambrano, missing the first and fouling off the next two. Then he took a pitch, hit what would've been a grounder to short, and took a pitch.
Fukudome saw five pitches from Wood and swung at three. Wood was more worried about how he was doing than the Japanese outfielder.
"I didn't want to hit him," Wood said. "I was trying not to hit him. I almost told him to get out of there. At that time in my outing, I was just getting ready to work on a cutter in to lefties, and I was going, 'I don't want to hit this guy.'"
Piniella wasn't too worried about Fukudome's performance this early in Spring Training.
"He's behind the pitchers right now, as are all the hitters," Piniella said. "It's going to be hard for them the first or second or third or fourth day to face pitchers who have been here a week or so longer. The pitchers are ahead of the hitters. To me, I don't put much stock in batting practice the first week or so. It'll take hitters a while to catch up."
Ready to go: Daryle Ward, who made 19 starts last season, is hoping the Cubs can use him this year as more than a pinch-hitter.
"I feel I have a lot more to offer the ballclub than just pinch-hit here," Ward said. "Pinch-hitting is a job I was given last year. It's like if you work in an office building, potentially you want to try to become president or something like that. It's the same situation for me. I want to get more playing time each year, and hopefully I can get a chance to get in the lineup a lot because I have the ability to help the team out, and I just want to show that."
Piniella has talked about giving Lee more days off, and Ward could sub there. He did have to battle injuries to his hip and calf, and Ward spent the offseason strengthening his legs.
"This year, I'm going to be healthy," he said. "What I did was try to do more running on my feet, and I did some activities that the team probably wouldn't agree with, so we won't discuss it."
Like what, bungee jumping?
"I like to play a little basketball," he said. "It's not like I'm playing in a league or anything like that, but I'm just doing more stuff on my feet, with agility and running so I can improve my footwork for the outfield. I've put in some work to have that kind of thing happen for me, and it'll happen."
Cal Ripken Jr. used to play basketball in the offseason, so it can't be too bad for a baseball player.
"If something happens and they find out you played and you tweaked your ankle, you can get in big trouble," he said. "It's a good way to get in shape. I wish I could play soccer, but I'm not that good with my feet kicking the ball."
Extra bases: Single-game tickets go on sale Friday for the 2008 season. ... Carlos Marmol impressed Hall of Famer Billy Williams on Thursday when the right-hander was facing hitters. "If you can hit him, you'll make the team," Williams said. ... Other pitchers who threw live batting practice included Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall, Scott Eyre, Rich Hill, Michael Wuertz and Chad Fox. ... Jose Ceda has impressed Piniella so far in camp, and the right-hander is hoping to stick around the big league team. "I don't want to go down," said Ceda, who spent last season at Class A Peoria and pitched three innings in the playoffs for Double-A Tennessee. "It's different here than being in the Minors because here, everybody treats you like a professional." ... The man who jumped onto Wrigley Field last June 25 and approached pitcher Bob Howry pled guilty Thursday to a felony count of criminal trespassing in Cook County Criminal Court. Brent Kowalkoski was sentenced to two years probation, 40 hours of community service, and is required to pay all court costs. He's also banned from Wrigley Field for two years.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.