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Cubs name Ryan Dempster Opening Day starter

MESA, Ariz. – Ryan Dempster will make his second straight Opening Day start for the Cubs opposite Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg on April 5 at Wrigley Field.


Manager Dale Sveum made the too-much-anticipated announcement Friday morning, saying he based the decision on Dempster’s tenure, performance after a rough April last year and performance this spring.


And he still had to sleep on it after watching Matt Garza throttle the powerful Texas Rangers for five innings Thursday, he said.


``The last start they both threw the ball probably as well as they possibly could,’’ Sveum said ``So it was just kind of a wait-and-see kind of thing.


``I can’t say that there was one reason or anything like that. I think it was the incumbent, Ryan Dempster. Obviously, he had a little hiccup last year, but his hiccup was mainly the first four weeks of the season last year, and other than that he pitched really well, with a not-so-good defense behind him. It probably came down to that as much as anything. And the way he’s throwing the ball this spring was probably the final [factor].’’


Strasburg, who broke onto the scene with great fanfare in 2010 before injury his elbow, returned from Tommy John surgery last year to go 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in five late-season starts.


The second game, April 7, pits Matt Garza (10-10, 3.32) against the pitcher Washington acquired in a trade from Oakland, left-hander Gio Gonzalez (16-12, 3.12 for the A’s).


Sveum said he hasn’t decided on the order of his fourth and fifth starters – who probably will be Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad.


Left-hander Paul Maholm, he said, will be his fifth starter, because of a slow start to the spring created in part by a bout with the flu.


Dempster is making his fourth career opening start, including two with the Florida Marlins (2001-02).


He is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings over those three previous openers.


Sveum talked about the value of setting a tone in the opener.


The Cubs, for instance, have lost their past two openers in what turned out to be fifth-place seasons – including an ugly 16-5 loss in Atlanta in 2010 that seemed especially to set a tone for what became their first losing season in four years.


``Opening Day means a lot to everyone, people that start in the game, people that are the opening day starter,’’ he said. ``I think it does set a tone. I think it’s very important to come out and play really well behind the guy, too, not giving any outs away.


``It’s not going to be the easiest schedule to start out with, with Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and [Jordan] Zimmerman, and then you go to the Brewers’ staff coming in right behind them.


``So it’s very important to play good baseball. We’ve got good enough pitching to do that. We just can’t give any extra outs. Our core defense has actually played pretty darn good defense this spring.’’

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