"They're always ahead of us this time of year," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said of the pitchers, who have been in camp since Feb. 14, and many before that. "This is probably the least fun day for us, that first day facing pitching live. We'll catch up."
Kosuke Fukudome, for example, faced lefties Les Walrond and Carmen Pignatiello and right-hander Jose Ceda, and swung at two of the 13 pitches he saw. He showed good patience.
"He's smart," Lee said.
"I was ready to swing at a strike, but I didn't see too many," Fukudome said through his interpreter Ryuji Araki. "That's why I watched."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella didn't mind that the hitters were doing more looking than swinging.
"You start trying to catch up too quick, you get in bad habits this spring," Piniella said. "They'll hit off the 'dead arm' pitchers and get their hitting that way. The pitchers have been here a week, eight days, some have been here longer. They're way ahead of these hitters. I don't really look at hitters until about a week from now."
Lee and Fukudome talked a little after the Japanese outfielder's session against Pignatiello.
"You can definitely communicate with him," Lee said. "He understands quite a bit, and his interpreter is right there. He has trouble maybe saying what's on his mind. We're able to communicate."
It's early, but Fukudome has impressed Lee. The two have been in the same hitting group.
"He looks good, looks great," Lee said. "Spring Training is Spring Training, but I feel he's going to hit. He was a .300 hitter in Japan, so I don't see why that's going to change. The other guys who have come over have all done well."
"Some of the hitters, they haven't seen anything faster than 55, 60 miles an hour or what they've been seeing in [batting practice]," said Cubs pitcher Sean Gallagher, who also threw on Wednesday.
Powerball: Lee hit six home runs in the first half of last season and finished with 22, well below the 46 he hit in 2005, when he won the National League batting title. The '06 season was interrupted when he fractured his wrist.
"He's a year removed from the wrist injury, and I think that had a big significance of what happened power-wise," Piniella said. "He's strong and really looks good. He should hit for more power, yes."
Lee never used his wrist as an excuse last season.
"I feel great, my body feels great," Lee said. "I don't think about my wrist. I have no setbacks, so it's exciting."
The Cubs are counting on more power from Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.
"Neither of the three had what you would call breakout years last year, but they all had solid seasons," Piniella said. "Hopefully one or two will have a breakout year. Last year, the wind blew in quite a bit early at Wrigley Field. We'll give them enough at-bats in the spring to get them ready for the season."
Step by step: Soriano was one of the players who did some agility drills, and said his legs are feeling good so far.
"Every day I feel better, more confident," Soriano said. "I'll be ready to be 100 percent by Opening Day. I have six weeks to get ready."
Piniella has hinted that he'd like to give Soriano more days off during the season. If Soriano had his way, he'd play all 162 games.
"We'll see," Soriano said. "It depends on how I feel. If I'm healthy, why take a day off?"
Center of attention: Sam Fuld was happy to get some new shoes from Nike on Wednesday. He had submitted a request, but in the past, the delivery often took some time.
"That's the official arrival point," Fuld said.
He's also now wearing No. 27, not No. 57 which he had last season.
"You knock 30 numbers off your number, and that's good, too," said Fuld, hoping to win a spot on the big league roster. "If I can get to single digits, that's the ultimate goal."
"Sam can play a little bit," Piniella said of the outfielder. "He's the type of kid who doesn't catch your eye in one day, but the more you watch him and the more you look at his particular skills, he impresses you.
"He's an athlete. He's got really good actions in the outfield, and he plays a small man's game with the bat, which is what he should do. He puts the ball all over and in play and keeps it on the ground. He's going to compete quite well for the center-field position, and we'll see how it comes out."
Fuld is competing with Felix Pie for the center-field job.
"I would think those two young men are the front runners, with basically Pie having a head or nose in front," Piniella said.
Quote of the day: "Announcing is fun. The best fun of it is you don't have to explain your afternoon to the media. The second part of it is whoever wins or loses, you leave the ballpark and leave it right there and forget about it entirely. That's probably the best part of it." -- Former broadcaster Piniella, about the difference between broadcasting and managing
Extra bases: Fukudome says he doesn't have a special routine to help him prepare for the season. "I just want to see live pitches here and there, and just get used to it," he said. In 2006, he hit 31 home runs. Can he do that here? Fukudome shrugged. Is he a power hitter? "No," he said. ... Jeff Samardzija had an early wakeup call, and was one of three pitchers who had an 8 a.m. throwing session with pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Wednesday. Also on the mound were Tim Lahey and Ed Campusano. ... Ceda is one of many young arms Piniella has been impressed with. He spent all of last season at Class A Peoria and posted a 1.54 ERA in 15 games of relief. He did not give up a hit in 23 1/3 innings. Lefties were 4-for-62 against him for the season. "He's an impressive young man," Piniella said. "He's got some size, he's got a really good arm. I don't know how you can throw 23, 25 innings without giving up a hit. That alone merits another look." ... Daryle Ward was showing off the watch Jon Lieber promised in exchange for switching uniform numbers with him. Lieber is now wearing No. 32 and Ward has No. 33. Ward's father, Gary, wore No. 32 when he played. ... The Cubs are considering bringing back the alternate blue jerseys for select games. No word on whether they will only be used when Carlos Zambrano pitches.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less