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Ryan Dempster settles mystery with a thriller as Cubs beat Reds 4-1

After nearly missing his start Wednesday with tight hip Ryan Dempster was no pushover against Reds. | David Kohl~AP

After nearly missing his start Wednesday with a tight hip, Ryan Dempster was no pushover against the Reds. | David Kohl~AP

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Updated: August 3, 2011 5:48PM

CINCINNATI — Just about the time Cubs manager Mike Quade felt pretty sure things couldn’t get any worse for his reeling team, he felt a hand on his shoulder while exchanging lineup cards before Wednesday’s game.

‘‘What are you doing here?’’ he said to bullpen coach Lester Strode.

Said Strode: ‘‘You don’t want to know.’’

At that point, Rodrigo Lopez was warming up in the Cubs’ bullpen instead of scheduled starter Ryan Dempster, who was sitting down after being unable to shake tightness in his right hip.

After the Cubs batted in the top of the first, Quade approached the home-plate umpire, explained the situation, then leaned toward the Cincinnati Reds’ dugout to tell Reds manager Dusty Baker, ‘‘I’m not sure who’s coming out of that bullpen.’’

That was when Dempster emerged — the beginning of the end of the Cubs’ eight-game losing streak. The veteran right-hander pitched through the sudden strain to shut down the Reds for six innings in a 4-1 victory.

‘‘[The hip] loosened up as the game went on,’’ said Dempster (5-5), who struck out eight and walked one for the Cubs’ first win since he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 29.

‘‘He showed us a lot today,’’ said first baseman Carlos Pena, whose ninth homer of the season was followed by Aramis Ramirez’s third, creating all the runs Dempster and the bullpen needed. ‘‘He’s a warrior, man.’’

Dempster had the hip examined, and the Cubs don’t think it’s a concern — certainly not as much as the Cy Young rotation the Philadelphia Phillies will throw at them in a four-game series that opens tonight.

‘‘We’re just going to enjoy today,’’ Pena said, laughing.

Returns coming

Outfielder Reed Johnson (back) and infielder Jeff Baker (groin) are scheduled to start brief minor-league rehab assignments today for Class AAA Iowa, with both looking to return from the disabled list within days.

Johnson, who was hitting .367 and playing every day for injured center fielder Marlon Byrd, is expected to rejoin the Cubs this weekend in Philadelphia.

The Cubs hope Baker, a key hitter who’s rotating through several positions, is ready to return on his first eligible day, Monday, for a series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

‘‘I can’t remember the last time I was excited about guys going out on rehab,’’ Quade said.


Alfonso Soriano (quadriceps) is scheduled to join Iowa on Sunday to start his rehab assignment, with an eye toward being activated from the DL on Wednesday, the first day he’s eligible.

Tony Campana’s sixth-inning steal of second base Wednesday put him in the team lead with six stolen bases — in only 37 at-bats worth of playing time since his debut three weeks ago. He has yet to be caught.

† The Pena-Ramirez shots were the Cubs’ first back-to-back homers of the season.

† Closer Carlos Marmol pitched a clean and quick ninth inning in his first appearance since he blew back-to-back saves and was targeted by teammate Carlos Zambrano in a public rant

‘‘You just get mad and say, ‘Dammit, this stuff stops,’ ’’ Quade said. ‘‘That’s the way it looked like he was throwing.’’

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