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Notes: Classic may affect Zambrano

Free agency no concern for Lee; spring big for slim Williams

Carlos Zambrano, who started last year's opener, may not be able to this year due to the WBC. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

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MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano was the Chicago Cubs' Opening Day starter last year, but he may not be able to repeat in 2006 because he is pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

"He's the leader [to be the Opening Day starter]," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Sunday. "But a lot of it depends on how he comes out of the World, and if we can get him on a schedule. That's what [pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] is doing, working with the pitching coach of Venezuela and trying to get [Zambrano] on an every-fifth-day schedule.

"We might have to alter some things depending on when he pitches or how deep he pitches," Baker said. "We're trying to get all these guys who will be gone on a schedule to lead up to the season."

Zambrano could make his first spring start in Arizona on March 2 for the Cubs, then go to Florida for the WBC. Venezuela opens March 7 in Orlando, Fla., against the Dominican Republic. Zambrano said he did not know when he would be pitching.

Meanwhile, there was a report late Saturday that the Dominican Republic team had picked Seattle's Adrian Beltre as its starting third baseman. Does that mean Aramis Ramirez won't go?

"I haven't heard anything yet," Baker said. "I'm sure it'll be addressed when he comes in. His injuries the last two years and the latter part of the season is a concern."

Ramirez missed all of September with a leg injury, and the Cubs want him healthy for the regular season. However, the Dominican team could use him as a designated hitter.

No worries: Derrek Lee will be a free agent after the 2006 season. He hasn't approached the team about a new contract, and if his agent decides to pursue one, Lee said he doesn't want to know about negotiations during the season. Does Baker think pending free agency will bother the first baseman?

"I can't see anything weighing on his mind, really," Baker said. "He's the same all the time. He's been the same since I've known him in elementary school. Sometimes people didn't really think he was into it, but he was -- that's just his personality. That's probably one reason why last season won't faze him going into this year. That's Derrek Lee."

Lee won his first batting title in 2005, and also revived talk of a possible Triple Crown, yet handled all the hoopla and attention with ease.

Dutch treat: Cubs pitcher David Aardsma was asked to play for the Netherlands team in the WBC, and was interested. But somewhere along the line, the rules changed.

"They changed the rules and said I had to be a citizen," said Aardsma. "Either your parents or you have to have citizenship."

Apparently, Team Italy has a different set of rules to get Mike Piazza on its roster.

"Each country makes their own rules, is what I've been told," Aardsma said. "All my great grandparents are Dutch. A couple of them came from the same country. It goes way back."

Is he bummed to not be able to play?

"I'm definitely bummed," said Aardsma, whom the Cubs acquired last May from San Francisco in the LaTroy Hawkins deal. "It's OK -- I don't go play for them, but I'm still here in Major League camp and right in front of all the coaches and everybody. Both have their advantages and both have their disadvantages."

Pollo Loco: This winter, Jerome Williams ate grilled chicken, sauteed chicken, stir-fried chicken, fried chicken, steamed chicken and bar-b-que chicken.

"Everything chicken," Williams said.

The fowl diet contributed to Williams dropping at least 10 pounds, which should benefit the young Cubs pitcher.

"Losing weight helps most people," Baker said. "Losing weight helps your endurance, it helps your rotation, it helps your balance, it takes pressure off your back, it helps your legs, which puts less pressure on your shoulder. I've only known one or two pitchers in my whole career who needed to be overweight to pitch well."

That would include Fernando Valenzuela, who was told to put the weight back on because he wasn't very effective when he was thin.

What Williams needs to show the Cubs is more than a trimmer waistline. He needs to be consistent. How does he do that?

"Just pitching," Baker said. "Confidence is No. 1. But as you pitch better, you get more confidence. I think as much as anything, what will help him is that he has a full spring. Last year, he had no spring, and we were looking at a guy who was operating from behind."

Williams agrees.

"It will definitely make a difference," he said. "My whole career, I've only had two Spring Trainings because I had to deal with a lot of stuff back home. My father is doing OK, and I'm not worried about anything back home. I'm just thinking about baseball now."

Williams' father, Glenn, underwent a kidney and liver transplant in February 2005. His father finally got to see Jerome pitch on Aug. 23 at Wrigley Field, and the young right-hander came through, holding Atlanta to one run on three hits over 7 2/3 innings in a 10-1 Chicago win.

"[My father] was doing real good when I went back," Williams said of a winter visit. "Now I don't have to worry about it, and that will take the stress off me."

How can he become more consistent?

"Last year, I went through a transition to a different team, so I wasn't really comfortable yet," Williams said. "Now I feel more comfortable on the mound, more confident now, and I know what I can do out there. All it is, keep on doing it over and over again."

Extra bases: Ryan Dempster was the National League leader in save percentage in his first season as a closer. "I knew he had the stuff. I knew he had the makeup and the character," Baker said of Dempster. "As a starter, sometimes his problem was command and control, which is one thing you're always apprehensive of with a reliever late in the game. What surprised me was the command and control that he showed. He did a great job." ... Obviously, the rumored Mark Prior for Miguel Tejada trade never happened. "Al Campanis told me years ago, the best trades he ever made were those that weren't made," Baker said. "Hopefully, this can be a great non-trade." ... Jason Simontacchi is not in camp. The right-hander was having some discomfort in his shoulder and will be examined by Dr. James Andrews on Monday. ... Among the pitchers who threw bullpen sessions Sunday were Greg Maddux, Glendon Rusch, Will Ohman, Scott Eyre and Bob Howry. ... Most ballplayers take their wedding rings off when they work out. Not catcher Jake Fox. He got married Jan. 7, and was so determined to keep his ring on all the time that when he practiced this winter, he wore a ring to get used to the feel. "I don't want to lose it or forget it," Fox said. That will make new wife, Allison, happy.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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