Cubs

Cubs lean on Dempster as the face of franchise

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Cubs lean on Dempster as the face of franchise

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Posted: 5:14 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Its hard to remember now, because you can see his image on the front of the building, next to the Wrigley Field marquee. But Ryan Dempster was essentially damaged goods when he first signed with the Cubs.

Dempster hadnt yet turned 27 and he was already on his fourth organization. He was almost six months removed from Tommy John surgery by January 2004. It would have been difficult to envision him as he is today the face of the franchise.

But at 1:20 p.m. on Friday, Dempster will stand on the mound at Clark and Addison as a billboard for everything the Cubs are trying to project. He is a family man, a trusted teammate, a good citizen and lets not forget their most reliable pitcher.

There is the Opening Day assignment against the Pirates. But April 1 also marks the second birthday of Dempsters daughter, Riley, who has battled DiGeorge syndrome, a developmental disorder that impacted her ability to swallow. It will be time for the family to reflect.

Shes come a long way in two years, man, thats for sure, Dempster said. Its been pretty special to watch what shes been able to do and do for other people. It will be a fun day.

On a cold December night, Dempster and his wife, Jenny, hosted a fundraiser for their charitable foundation inside a Lakeview pizza joint. There Kerry Wood and general manager Jim Hendry reconnected hours after Ron Santos funeral.

Before leaving, each went up to Dempster separately and essentially said the same thing: If hes serious, Im serious. The 1.5 million deal to make Wood a Cub for life was in sight.

Dempster never carried the same weight of expectations as Wood once did, but hes also grown up before our eyes.

All about winning

Dempster will turn 34 in May and has reached that point in his life where hes become almost corporate. When ESPN visited Fitch Park during spring training, he climbed aboard the bus and did his impression of Matt Foley, Chris Farleys old character on Saturday Night Live. But that wacky side isnt seen as often anymore.

Im a husband and father of three now. I find that a lot of my free time is with them, Dempster said. My little guys not even five yet and he does his little Harry Caray in the backseat its pretty funny. (But) there is definitely greater responsibility as you get older. I leave that up to the younger guys now to have that kind of fun.

The work is its own reward. Dempster keeps himself in excellent physical condition and has accounted for at least 31 starts and 200 innings in each of the past three seasons. But personal numbers dont consume him.

Dempster volunteered to defer part of his 12.5 million base salary last year so that the Cubs could add another player. Though its believed that he was paid the entire sum in 2010, the offer said everything about his priorities.

I was just going to get the money one way or another, said Dempster, who seemed reluctant to talk about it. It just seemed like if we needed a little bit extra, (then) you give me mine a little bit later and help the team get a little bit better.

It didnt quite work out like we were supposed to. But I think you see that with guys as you get older. You (just) want to win. When youre younger you want to win, too, but youre trying to establish yourself in your career. As you get older, really the only thing that matters is winning a World Series.

Risk-reward

That focus doesnt surprise Hendry, who never viewed Dempster as a risk. As a high school kid in British Columbia, Dempster once signed with Notre Dame to play for Paul Mainieri, one of Hendrys best friends and the current LSU coach.

The Cubs knew Dempster had a strong family background and would bring intangibles to the clubhouse.

When you take chances on people that (are) coming off injuries, Hendry said, the work ethic and character of the guy plays huge. (We) liked him as a pitcher before he got hurt, and we knew enough about him as a man that he was certainly worth taking a gamble on.

The Rangers chose Dempster in the third round of the 1995 draft and he never wound up playing for Notre Dame. He turned pro in every sense of the word.

Pitchers on other teams are jokingly called punters, because they are viewed as specialists, situational players completely divorced from the daily rhythms of the game.

But theres no doubt that Dempster has become a team leader, the veteran that young pitchers model themselves after.

In Arizona Dempster led a group of teammates on a hike up Camelback Mountain. And one free afternoon he finished playing Xbox with James Russell and suggested that they get off the couch and drive over to Tempe to watch Cubs-Angels in the rain. No one does that in the Cactus League.

You got to keep it fun and relaxed, Russell said. Thats what Ryan does so well. (For) four days hes joking around, having a good time. (But) when its his fifth day, you see him (and) its like a different person.

The future

Even with a higher public profile, Dempster still shows that Canadian sense of humor. After a recent start in Arizona, a reporter mentioned how Matt Garza likes to work on different pitches in spring training. Dempster was asked if he also likes to experiment.

I try to stay away from that kind of stuff, Dempster said. Oh, youre talking about baseball.

Dempster said he hasnt decided what hell do with his 14 million player option for 2012. The Cubs love the joy Dempster takes out of competing, how his work habits impact the rest of the clubhouse. But they also felt the same way about Ted Lilly, and hell be wearing a Dodgers uniform this season.

Id like to play here and win here, Dempster said. (Ill) just keep going out and doing my job. Wherever the cards fall, they fall. (I) dont really care to go anywhere (else but) thats a long ways down the road.

Its a business that Dempster tries to remember as a kids game. It's clear he wants to stay on the North Side. How much longer does he want to pitch?

Until I cant get anybody out anymore, Dempster said. What am I going to do? Work?

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Offensive production is very much judged in a "what have you done for me lately" manner.

And by that measure, the Cubs offense is just fine and there's no need to tinker.

However, overall, this lineup has weaknesses, including second base (Cubs rank 21st in MLB with .675 OPS from their second basemen) and center field (19th in MLB with .698 OPS). Before the trade deadline hits, it seems apparent Theo Epstein's front office will add another hitter of some sort to augment this offense. 

But what if the Cubs had an in-house solution?

Victor Caratini had another big game Sunday — going 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly RBI and his only out was a 109.1 mph liner to left field — and is now hitting .301 on the season with a .383 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage.

Caratini wasn't initially scheduled to be in the Cubs lineup Sunday, but with Willson Contreras nursing a sore foot, he got the call and continued to do what he's done all year — play very solid defense behind the plate with quality production at the dish. 

Between Caratini's emergence this season and Contreras' huge bounceback year, Cubs catchers are pacing baseball in OPS, average, OBP, SLG, runs and RBI and rank second in homers and hits.

So with Contreras' ability to play the outfield, will the Cubs try to find ways to get both Caratini and Contreras in the starting lineup at the same time in search of more consistent offense?

"We haven't talked about that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Sunday's game. "We have a lot of guys who have to be in the lineup when things are rolling properly. I haven't looked at that right now, honestly."

Maddon conceded that as a switch-hitter, Caratini is still utilized almost exclusively as a left-handed hitter. The second-year player is hitting .556 with a homer and a double from the right side this season, but that's come in only 10 plate appearances.

Maddon also admitted the best way to get both catchers in the lineup at the same time is if there's an injury or a natural day off for a regular player. For example, Contreras played a game in right field in Pittsburgh before the All-Star Break while Caratini started behind the plate with both Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward nursing minor injuries.

Caratini has also drawn some starts at first base over the last couple years when Anthony Rizzo is either ailing or getting a day off. 

But beyond that, it doesn't appear as if we're gonna see Contreras and Caratini as cohorts in the starting lineup on even a semi-regular basis.

"Maybe part of the reason they're both playing so well or Victor's hitting as well as he is or playing as well as he is is based on the amount of usage," Maddon said. "Everybody sees a guy do well and all of a sudden, that immediately indicates he should play more often. Maybe just playing the right amount."

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

The Cubs have made a trademark out of having a strong second half, and after beating the Pirates 8-3 Sunday, they completed the sweep in their first series since the all-star break and look on their way to putting more space in the NL Central between themselves and the other four teams.

But through the first three innings, the Cubs and starter Jose Quintana looked more like they were going to let the third game of this series get away.

Quintana held the Pirates scoreless in the first two innings, but then in the third he gave up three consecutive singles, threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly, and gave up a double, undoing the 1-0 lead the Cubs had established in the second inning on Robel Garcia's double.

But the difference in Sunday's game was how Quintana pitched after that. He tossed three more scoreless innings, completing a 90-pitch quality start and even contributed an RBI single in the fourth.

"He always goes out there and he competes. He’s so focused," Kris Bryant said of Quintana after the game. "He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does."

Leading up to Quintana's single, Garcia hit a two-out double and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle opted to walk David Bote to get Quintana to the plate for what seemed like a sure out. Instead, Quintana poked Trevor Williams' four-seam fastball to right field, allowing Garcia to score from second and trim Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2.

Quintana had already thrown a scoreless top of the fourth inning, but he gave two more after his RBI single. The hit was a timely confidence boost.

"Felt great, finally to get the base hit," Quintana said. "So excited."

This was Quintana's fifth career RBI and first since 2017, and it may have helped catapult the rest of the offense. The Cubs would score three more runs in the fifth inning to take the lead, and then added some cushion with another three in the sixth.

"Literally, when Q got that hit, Tony goes, 'homer right here,'" Jason Heyward joked after the game.

It wasn't Quintana who got the home run, but Heyward was the one to give the Cubs the lead with his own two-run homer in the fifth after Victor Caratini's sacrifice fly had scored Bryant to tie the game earlier that inning.

"We have fun with that," Heyward said of Rizzo's joking. "But we pull for them obviously because they’re out there pitching their ass off. They want to keep the game close, and sometimes they need to pick themselves up too."

Quintana's last three innings on the mound kept his team in the game. He started the fourth with a walk to Elias Diaz and then did not allow another baserunner until Corey Dickerson's one-out single in the sixth.

"I kept throwing my pitches and believing in my stuff and waiting for our offense to come back in the game, and they did really well," Quintana said. "Always in my mind was they can take more runs, so I wanted to keep it there and wait for our hitters to get back in the game. They did great work. It’s a really good feeling around us right now."

One of the keys to a strong second half for the Cubs is getting more wins like Sunday's. Bryant said after the game that it's important to get a few wins that you shouldn't, like one when the team is down 3-1 halfway through the game. And especially in the last game of a three-game set where the Cubs had already won the first two. With the series win safely secured, it would be easy to let up and drop the final game, but Quintana's timely hit and good pitching in the second half of his outing helped make the difference.

"As soon as he hits his knock, he pitched really well after that," Joe Maddon said. "He got better after the knock."

Quintana might struggle to live up to the expectations of coming from across town in a trade two years ago that cost two darling prospects, but it's worth noting that the average ERA in the National League is 4.39, and after Sunday's win, Quintana's is down to 4.21. If he's the team's back-of-the-rotation starter, that'll do just fine.

He's very capable of stringing together quality starts and pitching like the team's ace, like he has over his last three outings with three straight quality starts, but there are also stretches like his run from May 26 to June 22 where he lost six starts in a row and his ERA climbed from 3.73 to 4.50.

Either way, if Quintana makes more of his starts like Sunday's, the Cubs are in very good position to continue their yearly trend of winning in the second half of the season.

 

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