02/17/08 6:01 PM ET
Notes: Lee arrives with enthusiasm
Fukudome settling in; Piniella confident in team as is
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"It shows they want to get started, and it sets the tone," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of the early bird players.
"I feel great, my body feels great," Lee said. "I'm excited. I think we got better. I think the team's ready. I'm excited for the year. I like our chances."
He's also eager to move on after last year's abrupt ending in the National League Division Series, which ended after the Arizona Diamondbacks' three-game sweep.
"Last year, that was a bad way to end the season, and you sit on that all winter," Lee said. "You get a taste of the playoffs -- this group got a taste of the playoffs -- and we feel like we could've done a lot better. You bring that into this season and you're ready to go."
Lee finished with 22 homers, but hit only six in the first half. After hitting 46 in 2006, the expectations were high.
"It was what it was," Lee said. "I didn't hit a lot of home runs. I felt fine at the plate, I felt healthy. I just didn't hit a lot of home runs."
He's also not worried about it.
"I didn't put as much on it as other people did," said Lee, who hit .317 with 82 RBIs. "I thought I was still productive. Obviously, I would've liked to hit more home runs. Home runs aren't something you can try to do. If I feel as good as I did last year at the plate, the home runs will take care of themselves."
No. 1: Lee welcomed the addition of Kosuke Fukudome to the Cubs' lineup.
"If he hits anything like we hear he can hit, I think he's a good addition to any lineup, but especially this one," Lee said. "We are right-handed dominant. To throw a lefty in the middle of the order will be big for us."
Lee spent a lot of time in Japan when his father played there, so he should be able to communicate with the new Cub, right? Wrong.
"I feel terrible because I should know [Japanese]," Lee said. "I was there for so long. At one point, I got pretty good at it. I remember 'sayonara' and that's it."
So he'll communicate in English?
"I think I'll use an interpreter more than he will," Lee said.
Sunday was Day 3 in Cubs camp for Fukudome, and he said he appreciated how his teammates were trying to communicate with him. He still has to deal with some hazing by Carlos Zambrano, but spent time talking to Alfonso Soriano at the batting cage. Soriano played in Japan for three seasons from 1995-97.
Japanese players are known for their lengthy workouts. Is he getting enough work done?
"The work days are short, but at the same time there are no days off," Fukudome said through interpreter Ryuki Araki. "In Japan, they work two days and have two days off."
Jake Fox has been sharing right field during batting practice. How is his Japanese?
"He's going to need more work," Fukudome said.
How about the clubhouse food?
"No problem," Fukudome said in English.
"I was watching him today, and he's really smooth [in the outfield]," Piniella said. "He has a nice throwing arm, good feet. Whoever ends up in center field, we'll have a nice defensive outfield. He has a nice throwing arm, athletic."
The Japanese baseball season is 144 games, not 162, so Piniella said they will need a fourth outfielder to give Fukudome a break from time to time.
Trade winds: Piniella isn't pressing Cubs general manager Jim Hendry to make a deal this spring.
"About a month ago, I was asked [about possible trades], and my answer was we could be constituted just the way we are," Piniella said. "The more I look at this thing, the more I feel that way.
"I think when the season starts, we're going to be pretty much put together the way we are now, and like I said before, I'm pleased with that."
Extra bases: Piniella projects rookie Geovany Soto catching 120, 125 games this season. They want him to concentrate on hitting to right-center and to left-center field, and not pulling the ball. ... If Piniella has his way, the Cubs will leave with two left-handers in the bullpen. Neal Cotts is a candidate. "Hopefully, Cotts will revert back to how he pitched with the White Sox when they won the championship," Piniella said of the southpaw, who was 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 2005. "He's got all the ability in the world." ... One pitcher who has been impressive in the bullpen sessions is right-hander Jose Ceda, who spent most of last season at Class A Peoria. ... Soriano was asked if he can help Felix Pie, who is battling for the center field job. "I think he learned a lot last year," Soriano said of Pie. "He's a little more grown up, so I hope this year he plays a little better. We're friends, we're like brothers. I like him, and I hope he stays with the team this year." ... The first full-squad workout will be Tuesday at Fitch Park.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.