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Piniella: Cubs must be ready from Day 1

Piniella: Cubs must be ready early

CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella doesn't want the Cubs to get off to a slow start again this year, and he delivered that message on Sunday during a team meeting.

In 2007, the Cubs went 10-14 in April and were 5 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of the first month. They fell as far back as 8 1/2 games on June 23 before rallying to overtake the Brewers and win the National League Central.

They open defense of the division title on Monday against Milwaukee, sending Carlos Zambrano to the mound against Ben Sheets.

"We have to be ready to go out of the gate," Piniella said.

The Cubs do not have any major injuries to worry about. Left-hander Scott Eyre is on the disabled list, retroactive to March 23, because of inflammation in his elbow but may only miss the first week.

"We can talk about it all we want, but we still have to get it done on the field," Piniella said. "I told these guys we have a good team. Let's get it done on the field."

This will be Zambrano's fourth Opening Day start, but he's still looking for that first win. Big Z will be amped up. So will Piniella.

"[Opening Day] should be special for anybody who puts on a uniform," Piniella said. "You still get goose bumps, get nervous. They're fun. You work hard all spring for this, and the fans are excited, the ballpark's electric. I like the idea of opening at home as opposed to opening on the road. Let's hope we have a good one tomorrow."

The Cubs will celebrate Ernie Banks on Monday with the unveiling of a statue of the Hall of Famer, located on Clark and Addison streets. Banks has seen a smaller version of the statue, but on Sunday got his first look at it, even though it was still under wraps.

The Cubs lineup is set for the first game, and players don't expect Piniella to tinker as much as he did last season, which was his first in Chicago.

"I think we'll be more stable, and I think that will help us get off to a better start," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "Lou knows what he wants to do with us now, so we should be pretty set. Guys won't be checking the lineup every day to see where they're playing or where they're batting."

Piniella has seemed more at ease this spring.

"I'm more familiar with Chicago and Cub baseball and Wrigley Field and those sort of things," he said. "I'm very comfortable here. We just have to play good baseball and win some games."

Monday also will be right fielder Kosuke Fukudome's debut. He is the Cubs' first Japanese player and has had to deal with an overload of attention. Nearly 30 Japanese media were in attendance for Sunday's workout. Is Fukudome ready to go?

"Anytime," he said.

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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