Cubs' Lee keeping mind off long ball
Hitting coach Perry doesn't want first baseman overthinking swing
MESA, Ariz. -- Homers are a bad word for Derrek Lee.
"Gerald [Perry] said I'm not allowed to mention the words 'home runs,'" Lee said Wednesday. "I'm just going to go hit and see what happens."
Perry, the Cubs' hitting coach, has to figure out a way to get Lee to hit more without him thinking about doing it. The first baseman, who belted 46 in 2005, hit 20 last season, and only five were after the All-Star break.
"I'm not worried about home runs at all," Lee said. "I'm going to try to have good at-bats. Home runs are a byproduct of taking a good swing. Last year, I don't think I took good swings in the second half so, therefore, no home runs. I think when you start worrying about home runs, that's when you really don't hit them."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella would like to see more. He wasn't in Chicago when Lee had his stellar season in '05, when Lee won the National League batting title and set a career high in homers.
"Derrek is a good, pure hitter and he makes good contact," Piniella said. "He needs to get the ball in the air a little more to hit more home runs. He hits a lot of balls hard on the ground and on the line. To hit more home runs, he needs to elevate the ball more. He's got the power and bat speed to do it. I don't have an answer on why [he dropped off]. I would think that wrist injury he had hasn't helped the situation."
Lee fractured his wrist in a freak collision in 2006 but has maintained that hasn't been the problem. He showed up in camp looking trim and strong, and Piniella predicted a big year.
"Derrek's elevated in the past," Piniella said. "He's done it. Which means, basically, he doesn't have to change his mechanics or his hitting style much. It's getting back to that."
Lee admits that last season he was a little "pull conscious" and his timing was off. He was catching the ball in front of the plate too much.
"I have to work on going back to my strengths and staying up the middle and just try to hit the ball hard," he said.
Actually, he did hit the ball hard last season. And often, right at infielders when runners were on base, which resulted in 27 double plays.
"He rolled over and when you roll over, you usually smother the ball into the ground," Piniella said. "He's one of our main guys here. He's a team leader, he's a wonderful person, a heck of a ballplayer. He's a couple years removed from that wrist injury, so hopefully, he'll get back to that 35, 40 number he hit a few years ago. He really looks good."
While Piniella tries to figure out who goes where in the middle of the order, Lee appears set in the No. 3 spot.
"I don't see too many reasons to change too many things," Piniella said.
Just the nomenclature. Home runs were not the problem last season, Lee said.
"I just wasn't getting hits," he said, "so then you start trying stuff. I just got out of whack. It's a grind every day. In the second half, I just never found a groove."
Hopefully, he'll find that groove and the home runs will happen again. Just don't ask him about them.
"You can mention it," he said to the media. "I'm not allowed to. I can't tell you the words [Perry] said that he'll do to me if I mention it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.