Why Dempster struggled in the late innings

Updated 4/1/2011 11:54 PM
  • Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster watches Neil Walker's grand slam sail out of the park during Friday's game on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

      Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster watches Neil Walker's grand slam sail out of the park during Friday's game on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

One of the oldest adages in baseball is that if your pitcher gets ahead of hitters and throws strikes, he'll have success.

The Cubs' Ryan Dempster wasn't only textbook good early Friday -- it looked like he wrote the owner's manual.

Then it all stopped, and instead of an opening-day victory, the Cubs were confounded again by the Pittsburgh Pirates, losing 6-3 on a rainy Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

Here's how it went for Dempster:

• First inning: 13 pitches, 10 strikes.

• Second inning: 12 pitches, 9 strikes.

• Third inning: 13 pitches, 9 strikes.

• Fourth inning: 10 pitches, 9 strikes.

Dempster was a different pitcher in the fifth, and Neil Walker made him pay by launching a 3-2 fastball way over the wall in right-center for a two-out grand slam that rallied the Pirates from a 2-0 deficit.

In that inning alone, Dempster threw 34 pitches, but only 16 for strikes. He walked two in the inning and went to 3-ball counts on five batters.

A loss of command?

"Every so often he gets into one of those, over the years," said manager Mike Quade, who had his first Opening Day as a big-league manager ruined. "I haven't seen that this spring, but he normally finds a way to get out of it. Two mistakes, and they left the ballpark."

The second mistake resulted in a 2-run homer by Andrew McCutchen in the seventh that broke the backs of the Cubs, who lost 10 of 15 to the Pirates last season.

"Not really how I drew it up," Dempster said of the grand slam. "I'm more mad about the other one. The grand slam hurts, obviously, because you're cruising along there. When it's 4-2 and you're late in the game and you give those add-on runs, those usually end up putting you away for the rest of the game."

There was one bit of intrigue about how Quade used Dempster that raised postgame questions.

After a 22-pitch sixth inning, Dempster's pitch count swelled to 104. Just the day before, Quade said he likely would be cautious with pitch counts early in the season.

But Dempster stayed in the game, only to give up McCutchen's homer in the seventh. In the sixth, Quade went to the mound to talk with Dempster after he struck out Ryan Doumit for the second out as Pedro Alvarez stole second base. Dempster walked Garrett Jones before striking out Ronny Cedeno to end the inning.

"He's earned the right to ask him," Quade said of asking Dempster how he felt. "I gave him my thoughts on the deal. It's a little different than going out there and talking with Cash (young pitcher Andrew Cashner) or somebody. 'Let's figure this out. How do we want to do this?' Pretty important part of the game."

Was there a thought of taking Dempster out after the sixth?

"The score was 4-2. He said he felt fine," Quade said. "My gut didn't tell me that. If it did, I would have got him out of there. I thought he was fine, and I thought that given where they were in the order and given the score and everything else, we'd give him the opportunity."

Dempster seemed to appreciate that.

"I felt good," he said. "I had two quick outs. A guy (Walker) hit a double, and McCutchen hit the ball out. I still felt good and felt strong but wasn't able to get the job done."

Even with the loss, Quade said he would not dwell on the negatives. The Cubs outhit the Pirates 11-7, but all of the hits were singles.

"There were too many good things that happened today," he said. "No storybook ending, but I don't believe in those things anyway. You've got to earn what you get, and we didn't earn it today. We got beat.

"But, we put double-digit hits on the board. The bullpen did a pretty good job. I thought we played well defensively. I thought the kids up the middle (Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney) did an excellent job.

"Too much for me to look at that I liked. I'll get over the final score and we'll come back tomorrow and see if we can't do better."

Get articles sent to your inbox.