Cubs' Lee could bat cleanup as Pinella shuffles lineup

Updated: February 22, 2008, 6:09 PM ET
Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella plans to experiment with his batting order this spring to see where Kosuke Fukudome can best help the team. The Japanese star might hit third, a spot where he feels most comfortable.

That would mean a drop from third to fourth for former NL batting champion Derrek Lee and a switch from fourth to fifth for last year's team RBI leader, Aramis Ramirez.

Ramirez
Ramirez
Derrek Lee

Lee

"I think Lou probably has 100 lineups in his head like he did at this point last year," Lee said Friday.

But he made it clear early in camp that he doesn't care where he bats.

"Whatever makes this team win games," Lee said.

He's had an informal discussion with batting coach Gerald Perry about the move, and Piniella said he'll talk to his first baseman about it as well.

As the No. 3 hitter, the left-handed hitting Fukudome would follow leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot. It could give the Cubs more speed at the top of the lineup, while also busting up a long stretch of right-handed hitters.

Soriano, Theriot, Lee, Ramirez, No. 6 hitter Mark DeRosa and No. 7 Geovany Soto are all right-handed batters.

"It makes it too easy for the opposing manager to bring in a tough right-handed reliever and he can go take a nap for a couple of innings," Piniella said.

Fukudome, who can spray the ball, take pitches and hits for power, was ready for whatever Piniella decided. Earlier this spring Piniella said his new right fielder might be a good fit for the No. 5 spot. He's been mentioned for the second slot. No. 3 sounded good, too.

"If Lou puts me there, I'll try to do whatever job I'm supposed to do," Fukudome said through a translator.

Lee won the NL batting title in 2005 with a .335 average during a breakout season in which he also hit 46 homers with 107 RBIs.

But the 6-foot-5, 245-pound veteran broke his wrist on a play at first base in April 2006 and was limited to 50 games that season.

As the Cubs won the NL Central last year, he batted .317, but his power numbers were down considerably. He homered 22 times -- 16 of them after the All-Star break -- and drove in 82 runs.

"He's a year farther removed from the wrist injury and I think that had significance in what happened power-wise," Piniella said. "He's strong. He really looks good and should hit for more power."

Lee said his wrist is fine, but he's not going to necessarily start swinging for the fences.

"Obviously, I would like to up my home run total. I'm not in spring training to work on hitting home runs. I'm still going to stay with my plan and try to hit the ball hard to all fields. Hopefully I get a few more in the air this year," Lee said.

"Maybe I'm wrong, I just really believe you can't focus on hitting home runs. At least for me. It would take me out of what I'm really trying to do and that's be productive and have good at-bats," he added. "Generally I hit the ball in the air more than I did last year. Last year it just didn't happen that way. So I'm figuring if I have good at-bats, the home runs will come."

Ramirez, who had 26 homers and 101 RBIs last season, has already given his approval to dropping down in the order.

"I like the idea. I already talked to Lou and I'll hit wherever he wants me to hit. I don't have any problem with that," he said. "I'm going to be the same hitter. ... It's about the same, four or five. It's not that big a difference. I don't have to make any big adjustments."

Piniella stressed Friday that he was just shifting the lineup a bit in the spring to see how it worked.

"This is not going to be a year that we need to tinker much," said Piniella, who used 125 different lineups a year ago. "We just want to take a look at it in spring training and see what it looks like. And then we want to make sure Soriano is running out of the No. 1 hole, too. That's another consideration. We'll see."

Notes:
Ryan Dempster, trying to make the switch from closer to the rotation, will start the spring training opener against the Giants on Feb. 28. Carlos Zambrano and Jason Marquis will get the starting nods the next two games. "I guess that means the sooner you start, the more innings you get to throw," Dempster said. "It's cool." ... Piniella said the Cubs are looking at several young relievers for a spot in the bullpen -- Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, Billy Petrick, Tim Lahey and Jose Ceda.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press