Ryan Dempster Cubs Main Man In Rotation


As expected, there has not been a great deal to cheer about this season when it comes to breaking news out of Wrigley Field in Chicago. If Ryan Dempster pitched more often than every fifth day that might not be true, but that’s pretty much the schedule he’s locked into.

Saturday, the right-handed thrower from British Columbia extended his scoreless innings streak to 33 as the Chicago Cubs downed the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1. That equals the team record set by Ken Holtzman in 1969.

This is not to be confused with the Major League best of Orel Hershier (a record 59 scoreless innings in 1988) and the runner-up Don Drysdale (58 2/3 in 1968) the ex-Dodgers pitchers. Of course, those guys were also pitching complete games along the way. Complete games are an endangered species these days, so Dempster clicks off his scoreless innings roughly six innings at a time. Indeed, six innings of four-hit ball is what Dempster put up Saturday.

At the moment, Dempster’s record is 5-3 and his earned run average is a sparkling 1.86. Opponents are hitting just .204 against him this year. When Dempster merely watches a game from the dugout the Cubs, just about the worst team in baseball, usually lose.

It’s not as if Dempster hasn’t been a solid pitcher throughout his 15-year career. He has mixed it up as a starter and reliever. His overall record is only 116-119, but it feels better than that. Some years he was a solid reliever without the record to show for it. But he has also won 15 games in a season twice.

Again, it is not as if Dempster is a newcomer to fans. He is 35 and made  his first Major League appearance in 1998. He has played for Florida, Cincinnati and the Cubs. Dempster has not always been as sharp as he has been in 2012, and once said if things didn’t pick up he might move away from baseball and take up ninja training. OK.

Dempster does have a certain gift of gab and a few years back he dabbled with making for-fun appearances at comedy clubs doing stand-up. Not that the odds are much better at having a well-paying career doing that job than as a ninja.

Since 2009 Dempster has had a more important task on the front burner. His daughter Riley was born with DiGeorge Syndrome, a threatening, multi-faceted illness that carries dramatic health risks. He has raised money to help focus awareness on the illness.

It’s got to be pretty pleasing to be pitching the best ball of your life so late in your career, though who knows how long a scoreless innings streak can last given any potential onslaught of walks, hits and errors that can break out suddenly.

“To go out and take start after start and not give up any runs is pretty humbling,” Dempster said after Saturday night’s performance.

The irony is that each Dempster start has become a showcase of his skills for teams interested in beefing up for the playoff stretch run. The trade deadline is quickly approaching at the end of July and the Cubs are going nowhere now and nowhere in the foreseeable future, either, unless they rebuild. Dempster is old enough that he wouldn’t be around, anyway, by the time the Cubs are ready to seriously contend for a pennant.

So as terrific as Dempster has been in 2012, he is probably going to be an ex-Cub soon. The truly humbling thing for Dempster is that every team that needs pitching will want him.