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Dempster seeks first win in Houston on CSN Plus

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Dempster seeks first win in Houston on CSN Plus

Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 10:12 a.m.
Associated Press

Although Ryan Dempster has been saddled with a loss in each of his first two starts, the Chicago Cubs right-hander seems to be headed in the right direction.

Dempster, who has recently pitched well at Minute Maid Park, again seeks his first win of the season Monday night when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Houston Astros.

Dempster (0-2, 6.59 ERA) is taking the ball in the series opener for No. 5 starter Andrew Cashner (strained right rotator cuff), who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday. Cashner is one of two starting pitchers Chicago (4-5) put on the DL on Friday, along with Randy Wells (right forearm strain).

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Casey Coleman was called up from the minors to take Wells' turn in the rotation on Sunday in Milwaukee. He allowed four runs in five innings, and the Cubs ended up losing 6-5, their third defeat in four games.

This stretch started Wednesday, when Dempster allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven innings of a 6-4 loss to Arizona. Although he lost again, there were some positives to take from his latest outing.

After serving up a pair of homers and permitting four walks in an opening-day loss to Pittsburgh, Dempster kept the ball in the park and didn't issue a base on balls in his second start.

"I like the way I was throwing the ball," said Dempster, who has only lost three consecutive starts once since joining the Cubs rotation in 2008 - a four-game skid April 29-May 15.

Dempster could have a decent chance of earning his first victory in Houston, where he is 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in his last five starts.

Although he has pitched well against the Astros, Dempster hasn't had much luck. He is 2-4 in 11 starts versus Houston since 2008 despite a 3.65 ERA.

The Cubs went 7-11 against the Astros in 2010, their most losses in the season series since going 8-11 in 2002.

Houston (2-7) is coming off a 7-2 win over Florida on Sunday to become the last NL team to win its second game.

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The Astros, who averaged 3.5 runs in their first eight contests, pounded out a season-high 16 hits and the top three hitters in the batting order - Michael Bourn, Angel Sanchez and Hunter Pence - went a combined 8 for 14.

J.A. Happ, who pitched four-hit ball into the eighth inning, also contributed to the offensive outburst, driving in a pair of runs with a double.

"A real good team win," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "What a pitching performance, and then everybody in the starting lineup getting a hit. That's pretty special, when you're able to put together an attack like that, that's balanced."

Mills will now give the ball to Nelson Figueroa (0-1, 10.13), who is hoping to put a rough season debut behind him.

Figueroa was knocked around for career highs of 11 hits and 10 runs - six earned - in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-4 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday.

The right-hander will try to bounce back against the Cubs, whom he recorded a 2.45 ERA in winning two starts against last season.

Figueroa will have to be careful pitching to Aramis Ramirez, who is batting .316 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against him.

Ramirez, who drove in three runs on three doubles Sunday, had six homers and 19 RBIs in 14 games against Houston in 2010.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: