Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 10:50 PM Updated: 12:15 AM
By Patrick Mooney
HOUSTON Ryan Dempster might be the last player on the roster Cubs staffers worry about. They figure that all the numbers 30-plus starts, 200 innings will be there by the end of September.
That confidence doesnt erase Dempsters line from his first two starts 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA. But with 40 percent of their rotation on the disabled list, the Cubs need their Opening Day starter to perform like one.
Dempster did up to a point on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Then the Cubs bullpen hung on for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros in front of 20,175 fans.
Dempster estimated that he felt good through 95 percent of this start. It was the other five percent that caused the Cubs anxiety in another close game that was in doubt until the final out.
The games entire complexion changed in the seventh inning, in a span of three consecutive batters and eight pitches. Dempster had just rung up his ninth strikeout and appeared to be cruising.
Until pinch-hitter Bill Hall drilled a 91 mph fastball off the foul pole in right field to make it a 5-2 game. Michael Bourn then drove a slider that bounced off the top of the right-field wall and a replay review kept it as a double.
Angel Sanchez next launched a two-run homer into the left-field seats and there went a night off for the bullpen. The Cubs desperately needed Dempster to go deep into this game.
Watch: Quade praises his bullpen
James Russell will leave the bullpen on Tuesday to make the first big-league start of his career in front of his family and friends. The 25-year-old Texan will let it rip for three or four innings and the Cubs will patch it together from there.
Russells father, Jeff, made a nice career and two All-Star games out of swinging between starter and a reliever. The son predicted that his dad will be nervously pacing the concourse at Minute Maid Park.
Russell said he has no clue if this is a one-shot deal. The Cubs arent in a rush to announce what theyll do when the fifth starters turn comes up again April 18 at Wrigley Field against the San Diego Padres.
Well see, manager Mike Quade said. This is an ongoing evaluative process, both how Russ throws and what other options might be available, whether theyre here with us now or whether theres somebody somewhere else.
That made Dempster who gave up four runs on six hits in 6.1 innings working into the seventh so important. John Grabow got the ball to Sean Marshall, who handed it to Carlos Marmol. The bullpen isnt completely burned out for Tuesday night.
The Cubs (5-5) kept talking about getting some breaks and instead the eighth inning saw two hard-hit singles that bounced off infielders gloves Darwin Barney leaping through the air and Aramis Ramirez diving into the dirt.
But with runners on first and third, Marshall fooled Bourn, who whiffed on a 75 mph curveball. Marmol then came in for the four-out save and struck out Sanchez with a 79 mph slider.
It was typical Marmol in the ninth inning a single and a walk in between two strikeouts to finish off the Astros (2-8). At the end of his high-wire act, Marmol screamed and pumped his fist.
Watch: Dempster feeling good 95 of the time
Ive seen him do too many crazy things to ever really panic, Dempster said. I dont really get that nervous when hes pitching. He just seems to have a knack for striking guys out and getting out of big innings.
The Cubs feel the same way about Dempster, who earned the first of what they expect will be double-digit wins. They have no other choice.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.