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Notes: Big Z yields Opening Day to Lilly

Notes: Big Z yields to Lilly

CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano isn't going to make any bold predictions this year, and he is willing to let lefty Ted Lilly start on Opening Day for the Cubs.

Zambrano is winless in three straight Opening Day starts and had said he will let someone else do it in 2008.

"I will talk to Lilly, and I will give him the day to pitch Opening Day," Zambrano said on Friday.

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Lilly's response?

"Whatever he says," Lilly said.

Last year, Zambrano boasted he would win the Cy Young Award and take the Cubs to the World Series. He finished 18-13 with a 3.95 ERA.

"Last year was the only one I predicted something, and it was a mistake," Zambrano said. "Anybody can make a mistake. Every man, every human being makes a mistake. You learn from the mistakes. This year, the only thing I want to do is win the first game, and then the second game, and go game by game. That's my mentality right now."

Welcome: The Cubs signed right-handed pitcher Shingo Takatsu to a one-year Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Takatsu, 39, is a 15-season veteran with the Yakult Swallows and pitched in 99 games for the Chicago White Sox (2004-05) and New York Mets (2005).

He will be the second Japanese player in spring camp for the Cubs, joining right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. Many of the Cubs said they were eager to meet the new outfielder, who signed a four-year deal in December.

"They play the game the same way we play it," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said of Japanese players. "If [Fukudome] can play there, he doesn't need to change here. They're very fundamentally sound players, and if your fundamentals are sound, you'll be all right."

Lee spent a few summers in Far East when his father, also Derrek, and uncle, Leon Lee, were playing for the Japan's Lotte Orions.

Does Lee speak any Japanese?

"Just a little, very little," he said. "I'm hoping it comes back to me -- but it's been more than 20 years."

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Zambrano's Japanese is even more limited.

"'Arigato' is the only thing I know how to say," Zambrano said. That means "thank you."

Alfonso Soriano played in Japan from 1995-97. Can he speak any Japanese?

"A little bit," Soriano said. "I can't wait to meet [Fukudome]."

Good student: Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry made two trips to the Dominican Republic to work with outfielder Felix Pie and was encouraged by the youngster's progress.

"We want to get him to stay inside on the ball and use more of the middle of the field and the opposite side of the field and use his legs and try to shorten his stroke some," Perry said. "The time I was down there, he did extremely well. He got off to a terrible start, so his overall average wasn't that great."

Pie was playing for Licey in the Dominican, but made it to Chicago for the Cubs Convention this weekend. The Cubs are trying to get him to become more of a Kenny Lofton-type player and utilize his speed.

"He was very receptive," Perry said. "I'm really looking forward to Spring Training to do some stuff with him and work with him and for him to take off. I think he's going to be fine."

Sing along: Dustin Eglseder got to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" one more time in front of a packed house of Cubs fans.

Eglseder won the team's Ultimate 7th Inning Stretch Competition in 2007 and became the first fan to sing at Wrigley Field, doing so Sept. 22. The Guttenberg, Iowa, native did so six months after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

On Friday, Eglseder led the Grand Ballroom crowd at the Chicago Hilton in the song as part of the opening ceremonies for the 23rd annual Cubs Convention. Since his September debut, Eglseder lost his right arm because of cancer. Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot introduced him to the crowd.

"Thank you for inspiring all of us," Theriot said.

Extra bases: Scott Eyre seems to be the only lefty in the bullpen. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Neal Cotts is another option. "There's no reason why Cotts can't come back and earn himself a spot on the roster -- he's got too good of an arm not to," Piniella said. Cotts was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on May 20 after a 4.86 ERA in 16 outings. "It's going to be up to him." ... Pitcher Sean Gallagher dropped 25 pounds this winter. He had his meals delivered every day, using the same company that Kerry Wood used. ... Piniella said he hopes Ronny Cedeno can become a utility player and sub at both the infield and outfield. "He's got a wealth of athletic ability," Piniella said. "It's about time he put it together and fulfilled his promise. I like Cedeno, I really do. I want to see him get serious about baseball." ... The Cubs will unveil a statue of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks on Opening Day. The statue will be located at Clark and Addison streets.

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

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