Cubs

No matter what, Dempster wants to finish strong

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No matter what, Dempster wants to finish strong

Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011
Posted: 10:32 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow@CSNMooney
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CINCINNATI Clubhouses around baseball are filled by impressionable kids, September call-ups who are getting a taste and dont know if theyll ever be back.

Ryan Dempster holds a 14 million player option for next season.

Dempster has all this leverage, but isnt looking forward to vacation. The Cubs extended him to 128 pitches on Tuesday night, two away from his career high and the most hes thrown since 2001.

All Dempster had to show for it afterward was another hard-luck loss, this time 2-1 to the Reds in front of a mostly empty Great American Ball Park. Others are definitely watching. All the young pitchers look up to Dempster and try to follow the example he sets.

Thats always important, crossing the finish line, Dempster said. Getting through times like back in 01 probably helped me (later on). Its probably not the healthiest thing to go out there and throw 120-plus pitches every start.

But to do it once in awhile especially toward the end of the season when youre still strong and you feel good (is) important.

Given that veteran status, the Cubs (65-83) will likely reconfigure their rotation down the stretch so that Dempster will get three more starts and the chance to reach 200 innings for the fourth consecutive season. Hes at 183.2 after going seven innings and giving up two runs to the Reds (72-76).

Dempster, an affable, down-to-earth personality, can be seen walking the streets of Lakeview with his son. Major League Baseball recognized his charitable work on Tuesday by announcing that he was the Cubs nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

But behind all that, there is a deeply competitive side. Everyone saw that on July 9 in Pittsburgh, when Dempster got into a shouting match with Mike Quade in the dugout after the manager pulled him for a pinch-hitter after five innings.

This time Quade let Dempster bat in the seventh, even though nine times out of 10 the manager would call on a pinch-hitter. With a runner on third, Quade also allowed Dempster to finish the inning and strike out Jay Bruce.

That was out of respect for him, Quade said.

Theres no doubt that Dempsters numbers are down this season 10-12 with a 4.66 ERA. But in a year where the Cubs have had no idea what theyll get from one start to the next, hes been a consistent rotation piece. Theyll need more of those in 2012.

After a brutal April 9.58 ERA in six starts Dempsters showing that he still has something left.

Im just glad that I bounced back after such a terrible first month of the season, Dempster said. Im just trying to finish as strong as possible. A good year for me would have been us playing a lot better.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

This is the Jason Heyward the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him to an eight-year deal in December 2015.

Back then, the Cubs believed Heyward had more power to tap into from his 6-foot-5, 240-pound, linebacker-esque frame. 

It didn't play out that way initially, with Heyward hitting only 26 homers to go along with a .367 slugging percentage and .688 OPS in his first three seasons in a Cubs uniform.

But all that has changed this year.

Heyward is on pace for 26 homers in 2019 — which would equal that three-year total — and his 71 RBI pace would be his highest since 2012, when he drove in 82 runs.

The 29-year-old hit his 15th homer of the season Sunday and it marks the first time he's eclipsed the 15-homer threshold since that same 2012 season, when he hit 27 dingers as a 22-year-old with the Atlanta Braves.

The power is the area that jumps off the page right now about the new and improved Heyward, but that carries with it a grain of salt that must be taken with everybody's longball total in the game right now. But his walk rate (11.6 percent) is the second-best mark of his career to only his rookie season in 2010. He's also pulling the ball less than he ever has and utilizing the middle of the field more while his hard and soft contact rates are far and away better than they've ever been in a Cubs uniform. 

All told, this is not the same hitter Cubs fans saw in the first three years of Heyward's megadeal.

"He's set up a little bit differently," Joe Maddon said. "Right now, his confidence is soaring. That ball was properly struck [Sunday afternoon] and he's been doing that often — even his basehits.

"... He's set up a little bit differently, but honestly, I think it's a confidence thing right now. He's feeling so good about himself. He's on the barrel more. I mean that's obvious. You don't see the ball off the weaker part of the bat nearly as often as we've seen in the past. I think that's the primary difference — the ball's off the barrel. 

"His hands are really alive. I love that the ball's still line to line, but the power is still showing up. I think that's exactly who he's supposed to be."

Sunday's homer was the game-winning hit for the Cubs and Heyward put his team in front once again Monday night with an RBI groundout to plate Kris Bryant in the fourth inning before a bullpen/defensive meltdown in the seventh inning. Oh yeah, and he got the game-winning knock in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday immediately after the Cubs gave the lead right back to the Pirates in the pivotal first game coming out of the All-Star Break.

He's been a difference-maker in this Cubs lineup all year, even as they search for more consistency and steady production. 

Heyward has gone from a guy who was on the bench in some of the most important games in the 2016-17 postseason because of his offensive issues to an integral part of this team's run production.

He's shown flashes of this in the past, including a month or so in the early part of last summer where he got really hot. But this has been sustained offensive production. In every month but May (when he batted .186 with a .618 OPS), Heyward has hit over .300 with an OPS well above league average, including a .968 mark in June and .992 in April.

But right now, he's not getting into all that. He's just trying to ride the wave of a long season.

"I don't try to break it down at all, honestly," Heyward said. "Just keep it simple and just stay in tune to what I got going on — first at-bat or whatever. It is kinda simple when you just look at it — not dwell on the negative, don't get too deep on that. 'Cause you're gonna fail. Just kinda choose how you want that to happen and make the best."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi live from Gallagher Way for this edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full podcast episode in the embedded player below: