Lee: “I think we’re going to have a good year”

SARASOTA, Fla. - First baseman Derrek Lee reported to camp today and hit some soft tosses in the indoor cage. He’ll be ready to face live pitching in a week or so as he continues to recover from thumb surgery.

“It’s getting much better,” he said. “I’m up to soft toss now, which is actually ahead of schedule.”

Lee signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal after the Orioles made offers to Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche. He’s projected to hit third ahead of Vladimir Guerrero.

“I think we’re going to be a good team,” he said. “We’re going to score runs. Obviously, we have a lot of young pitching, but good arms, so I think we’re going to be OK. And you throw Kevin Gregg into that bullpen, he’s going to give those guys some leadership there. I think we’re going to have a good year. I think it’s a good club.”

It became a better one in his eyes after the Orioles signed Guerrero.

“I was fired up,” he said. “This guy is one of the premiere hitters in the game, just a pure hitter. He falls out of bed hitting. So, you stick him in the middle of the lineup, he just makes guys around him better because he’s one of those guys the other teams have to focus on. When he’s hot, he can carry a team two or three weeks at a time.”

When I asked whether Lee has thought about hitting ahead of Guerrero, he smiled and nodded his head before answering.

“We’ve got a good lineup. It’s exciting,” he said. “One through nine, we’ve got guys who can hit. We’ve got some speed in the lineup. I think we’re going to be able to put some runs on the board. When you’re scoring runs, it’s fun. When you’re not scoring runs, this game can be a little frustrating sometimes.”

Lee knows how the Orioles finished under manager Buck Showalter. He talked about the buzz that the team created, and how it’s continued through the winter. The perception of the organization, he says, is starting to change.

“That’s the feeling you get from the outside,” he said. “You started taking notice of them last year. Even in the National League, you saw what Baltimore was doing to finish up the season. And that continued in the offseason.

“Obviously, they wanted to build on it. They brought in a lot of new guys. But that being said, it also brings expectations. You know you’re not going to fly under the radar. Other teams know you’ve gotten better, so we have to continue to get better.”

Lee is looked upon as one of the veteran leaders, though mostly a quiet one.

“It’s fun playing with the young guys, because they’re hungry and excited and they bring that passion,” he said. “It’s fun being around those guys. And you can show them the ropes along the way, whatever advice they may need or questions they may have. Some of us have been through the fires and we can bring some guidance.”

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