Confident Lee shrugs off hitting swoon
Cubs star knows hits will come, focusing on preparation
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- All Derrek Lee can do is laugh.
Lou Piniella says he wants to see more offense from the big boys in the Cubs lineup, including Lee. The first baseman was batting .179 this spring, and Sam Fuld, Welington Castillo, Mike Fontenot, Jake Fox, Brad Snyder and even Carlos Zambrano have hit more home runs than Lee, who has zero.
"I feel fine," Lee said Tuesday. "I'm not worried."
He is puzzled by the questions. It's a cliche, but Spring Training stats don't count. They're not listed on the back of players' baseball cards.
"We still have three weeks to go," Lee said. "I'm just trying to stay healthy and get my swings in. I'm not getting hits, but I know I'm going to hit, so I'm not worried about it.
"I'm just getting my at-bats, get my work in, getting ready for the season."
Lee was scratched from Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale because of a sore right quad that has bothered him for a couple days. His status is day-to-day. Milton Bradley also missed his second straight day because of the flu, and Joey Gathright was sidelined because of a sore tooth. He was to see a dentist.
But Lee is the one being watched, because his home run and RBI numbers have dropped the last two years, and because fans see Micah Hoffpauir batting .288 this spring.
"I've been doing this a long time," Lee said. "I don't put a lot of weight on my results in Spring Training. I know what I'm capable of doing in the season. I'll be OK."
Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster overheard the conversation.
"Hey 'D,' you know Rocky Cherry had a zero ERA in Spring Training," Dempster said of the former Cubs pitcher.
"If you're a first-year guy, breaking in, that's one thing," Lee said. "I think I've shown what I can do during the season. Do I want to get hits? Yeah. They're not coming right now. I'm not going to panic over it."
What's important is how Lee does starting April 6 in Houston. Remember April 2005? Lee was named National League Player of the Month after he hit .419 with seven homers, nine doubles, 28 RBIs and a .767 slugging percentage in the first month of play. He had a career .228 average in April before the '05 season and has reversed his traditional slow starts.
In 2006, Lee hit .318 in April; in '07, it was .392; and last year, .371.
Piniella may be trying to send a message, or may be a little anxious. This is a long Spring Training.
"Look at last year -- I didn't get hits last spring, and I had one of the best Aprils ever," Lee said. "I've hit .500 in spring and didn't get a hit in April. The key is getting your work in, getting ready, being healthy. I'm going to play 150 games. I'll have my ups and downs throughout the season."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.