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Ryan Dempster’s defects tough to pin down

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

PHOENIX — The Cubs are as confounded by starter Ryan Dempster’s April struggles as fans — and perhaps even Dempster himself — are.

Team sources say that as his rough month worsened in his last two starts, they asked the same thing media and fans were asking: Is he hurt?

But Dempster emphatically denied anything is physically bothering him, a source said, and there aren’t any obvious symptoms beyond his roughest stretch since returning to the rotation in 2008.

All of which leaves Dempster and the Cubs back at Square One as they seek to right a 1-3, 9.58 ERA start that bottomed out with the shortest start of his career Thursday night in Arizona. He pitched one-third of an inning,
allowing seven runs in a 11-2 loss.

Pitching coach Mark Riggins said that mechanically, Dempster looks the same on film as he did during an impressive spring training.

‘‘I think he’s just trying too hard,’’ Riggins said. ‘‘And I think a lot of it is confidence. Overthrowing, not throwing as hard as you can — just trying to find that right rhythm, from pitch to pitch.’’

Despite stadium radar displays that indicated Dempster’s fastball didn’t reach 90 mph during his 40-pitch outing Thursday, independent readings from scouts in attendance said several of his pitches reach 90 and 91. The Cubs say they had him clocked as fast as 93, easing some of their initial concerns.

Riggins and Dempster met Friday as they prepared for his next start Tuesday in Los Angeles. Riggins plans to simplify the between-starts focus to just one or two points,
including keeping the ball low in the zone without as much regard for hitting corners.

‘‘Sometimes when you get hit, you try to pitch too much, you try to work on corners too much and try to do things that you don’t necessarily have to do,’’ Riggins said. ‘‘It’s not panic, but you just don’t have the confidence that when you release the ball that it’ll get somebody out. He’s got to get that back. And that comes from pitching and having a good inning and then building on it.’’

Dempster said after Thursday’s game that it might be as simple as not executing his pitches sharply enough.

‘‘Sometimes you try to do a little too much, and I think you’ve just got to go back to doing what you’re used to doing,’’ he said. ‘‘And that’s just pounding the strike zone and going right after guys. And I’m not going to shy away from doing that.’’

Said manager Mike Quade: ‘‘I’m just glad that he’s not a young kid, and glad that he’s got some experience to draw on to get him out of it.’’

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