After his spring-training earned-run average soared to 11.20 a couple of weeks ago, Ryan Dempster jokingly challenged anyone to find a baseball card of his with any spring statistics on the back.
But after Dempster was knocked out in the fourth inning of the Cubs' 8-3 loss Wednesday night at Bank One Ballpark, there was no getting around that the right-hander's struggles continue.
Making his first start since July 28, 2003, with Cincinnati, Dempster gave up seven runs on nine hits while walking three in 32/3 innings, leaving with the Cubs trailing 7-0.
Dempster also struck out seven and was clocked in the mid-90-m.p.h. range but left too many pitches over the plate to survive his first Cubs start.
"Not the way you wanted to start the season," Dempster said. "I put us between a rock and a hard place. It stunk because I was getting ahead of hitters. I've got to put guys away."
It was a turnabout for the Cubs after a 16-6 shellacking of the Diamondbacks in the opener. In the last two games, the Cubs reverted to the all-or-nothing attack of last year.
Of the seven runs they scored in the last two games of the series, six came on two three-run homersby Michael Barrett on Wednesday and Todd Hollandsworth on Tuesday.
Last year the Cubs scored 45 percent of their runs on homers.
But Wednesday's loss was a team effort as they fell behind early. The Cubs are counting on Dempster to fill the void left by the departure of Matt Clement. But if he wants to stay in the rotation, he'll have to pick up the pace.
Dempster missed the final two months of 2003 and the first four months of 2004 due to ligament surgery on his right elbow but made a quick recovery and was back pitching with the Cubs last August.
"First start since 2003," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said before the game. "It's a tribute to him and how he's worked to get to this point. It's also a tribute to modern medicine, because back in our day an injury like that and your career was done. It really shows the progress we've made in the medical field as much as anything."
Medical marvel or not, Dempster still has to make his pitches.
He issued a two-out walk to Luis Gonzalez in the first before Troy Glaus tripled to the corner of right field, bringing home the first Arizona run. Dempster seemed to get in a groove in the second, striking out three straight after a leadoff single by Chad Tracy.
As it turned out, it was only a mirage.
The Diamondbacks added more in the third on a two-out, two-run single by Jose Cruz and Dempster gave up another two-out walk and three straight singles in the fourth, earning an early shower.
An RBI double by Cruz off Glendon Rusch brought home the seventh run charged to Dempster, and caused a brief commotion.
Glaus' slide into Barrett brought a surprising reaction from the Cubs catcher considering the innocuous nature of the collision.
As Glaus got up to walk away, Barrett gave him a slight shove.
Glaus threw up his hands in amazement, and plate umpire Ron Kulpa quickly stepped in between the two players before any problems could occur.
Two innings later, Barrett blasted a three-run homer off reliever Brian Bruney for the Cubs' only runs of the game.
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