Cubs

Dempster seeks first win in Houston on CSN Plus

262089.jpg

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).

WATCH: Byrd angry after being asked about stolen base attempt

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.

READ: Cubs can't change who Garza is

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.

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

It’s been another quiet offseason for the Cubs.

January is almost over and the Cubs have yet to commit a single guaranteed dollar to the big-league roster. After exceeding MLB’s luxury tax threshold in 2019, Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to get under the figure in 2020 and reset penalties entering 2021.

Barring any major surprises — i.e. a core player getting dealt before Opening Day — the club will return largely the same team from last season. That group has plenty of talent, but there are some question marks, like second base and center field.

A fan made waves at Cubs Convention last Saturday, reciting the definition of insanity to Epstein and Jed Hoyer during a baseball operations panel. With a similar roster in hand, why should fans expect anything different from the Cubs in 2020?

For Epstein, part of the answer lies in the continued development of homegrown players like Ian Happ.

Happ was supposed to be a key cog for the Cubs in 2019, but he was sent to Triple-A Iowa at the end of spring training after striking out 14 times in 52 at-bats. This followed a 2018 season in which he sported a 36.1 percent strikeout rate.

“He was striking out 30 percent of the time and we decided to send him down, because what we were seeing with Ian Happ, in our mind, wasn’t the finished product,” Epstein said Saturday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “We believe it’s the same way with a lot of our hitters, that’s there’s tremendous talent in there, but it wasn’t manifesting in major league games — which is all that matters — the way we needed it to.”

Happ was reportedly upset with the move, but his strikeout rate dropped to 26.3 percent with Iowa. After the Cubs recalled him on July 26, he posted a 25 percent rate in 58 games (156 plate appearances), slashing .264/.333/.564. He recognizes the demotion was beneficial.

“I got a lot of at-bats. I used it as a learning process,” Happ told NBC Sports Chicago Friday of his Triple-A stint. “To be able to come back and have success, it was a good way to finish the season."

Happ ended the season on a high note, slashing .311/.348/.672 in September with six home runs. He was tremendous over the season’s final eight games: .480/.519/1.200, five homers and 12 RBIs.

“Just being more aware of the ways guys were gonna pitch me,” Happ said regarding his hot September. “There’s some tweaks. For me, it was more about handling different pitches and when to use two different swings — when to be a little bit more defensive, when to put the ball in play. It led to results.”

Cubs players have been criticized in recent seasons for a seeming unwillingness to shorten up at times to put the ball in play. Their 73.8 percent contact rate in 2019 was last in the National League, though Ben Zobrist’s personal absence contributed to the low figure.

Happ posted a 71.7 percent contact rate, up from his 63.5 percent rate in 2018.

“He went through a really difficult stretch in Iowa, making significant adjustments to his approach and his swing and as a person, growing from some failure,” Epstein said. “When he came back up towards the end of last year, his strikeout rate was under much better control, he had much more contact ability.

“He wasn’t driving the ball quite the same, and then by the end of the year, he had maintained that better contact rate, was starting to drive the ball again, and it looked pretty dynamic and pretty promising for the future.”

It’s not a coincidence Happ made strides with Iowa. He got to work on his swing in an environment where he played every day. This wouldn’t have been the case in the big leagues, especially if his struggles lingered.

Happ started each of the Cubs’ last six games; he said it's huge for his confidence knowing he'd be playing every day. 

“It’s huge, it’s huge. I think that’s what everyone’s striving for in this league, is be able to [play every day],” he said. “For me, after that stretch and being able to finish strong and look back on a solid year, that’s big moving forward.”

The Cubs roster may look the same, but there’s plenty of room for internal improvement. Pitchers will continue adjusting to Happ, but he’s a better player for what he went through last season. He can take what he learned and carry it into 2020.

“So now, same player on the roster — and I understand the definition of insanity — but to expect Ian Happ to grow from what he’s gone through and benefit from the coaching that he’s gotten,” Epstein said, “and the lessons that he’s learned and the adversity that he’s gone through, and go out and be a productive player for us next year in a certain role, I don’t think is insane.”

“It’s just about sticking with the process, understanding that that’s what worked and that’s what you want to do,” Happ said. “It’s not always easy at the beginning of the year at Wrigley. It’s cold, it’s windy. The results don’t always show up. But if you’re true to the process and you keep going, by the end of the year you’ll be at a good spot.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

davidrosscubsconap.jpg
AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.