Ryan Dempster And Cubs Stink Out Start Of Trip Against Diamondbacks

Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on April 28, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Cubs lost to the Diamondbacks 11-2 Thursday night in Phoenix.

Much more entertaining than the game was the Twitter spat I got into with ESPN's Buster Olney. Paul Sullivan thought it was, too.

Here's what happened. Ryan Dempster had absolutely nothing in the first inning; in the shortest outing of his career (one-third of an inning) he gave up four walks, four hits including a grand slam to Stephen Drew, and he hit Justin Upton with a pitch. Upton slammed his helmet down after he was hit.

No big deal, right? Well, Justin Berg, who relieved Dempster, also hit Upton when he came to bat again in the third inning.

Olney was convinced that this was intentional and that Barry Enright (or another D'backs pitcher) would retaliate. By this time the score was 10-1. What manager would risk waking up a somnolent team like the Cubs by possibly starting a beanball war? I said "no way", and it turned out I was right -- no Cubs were hit, and they went down mostly meekly the rest of the game.

In case you didn't see this via Twitter last night and you want to check out the Twitter war (complete with typos from me, as I was tweeting from my phone), here's my Twitter feed and here's Buster Olney's. (Man, is Olney's hard to read with that background.) Olney tweeted at one point regarding a Mark Grace comment on the air: "Grace speculated on D-Backs' broadcast that inside fastball to Pena might've been attempted retaliation". Well, you all know my opinion of Grace as a broadcaster. There was really no call for any retaliation, and an inside pitch to Carlos Pena was "attempted retaliation"? Nonsense, in my opinion. Dempster just had nothing. And the idea that Justin Berg hit Upton intentionally assumes two things:

  • that he was actually ordered to do it, and
  • that he has the control to hit a batter when he's trying to

Considering we're talking about a pitcher who had a 1.625 WHIP in 2010 and who has already issued three walks in 6.2 innings this year, that just doesn't seem possible.

In any case, the more important issue to deal with this morning is:

What's wrong with Ryan Dempster?

Dempster had a solid year in 2010, although his ERA and WHIP were their highest since he joined the Cubs rotation in 2008. He had an excellent spring training. And then Opening Day hit and he hasn't been good at all. It doesn't appear that he's injured -- his velocity is good -- he just has no command of his pitches, and when they do get in the zone, they get hit a very long way.

In 2009, after the birth of his daughter Riley and the subsequent complications with her health we're all familiar with, Dempster got off to a rough start. After Riley's condition stabilized, so did Dempster's pitching -- he had an excellent second half (2.82 ERA from Aug. 1 through season's end in '09) and was fine last year. Could something off the field be affecting him again? It's easy to say that players shouldn't let personal issues affect their play on the field, not necessarily so easy to do in reality. I hope this isn't the case, and I have no specific knowledge of anything that might be going on in Dempster's life, but if there is something wrong, they (meaning both he and the team) need to get it fixed.

And just to move this game from the category of "absurd" to the category of "more absurd", Koyie Hill provided half of the Cubs' scoring with his first home run since August 31, 2010 (and only the seventh of a 789-plate appearance career).

Finally, speaking of Twitter, check out Mike Quade's reaction to Ozzie Guillen's Twitter rant (following Ozzie's ejection) the other night:

"I will never get in trouble tweeting, twittering, tweetering — I can't even say it — because I will never do it," Quade said. "I don't have the time, energy or know-how, and I'm real happy about that."

Quade has a BlackBerry but said he has no interest in setting up a Twitter account. He wasn't even sure whether one had to pay to start one.

"You just push the right button, and all of a sudden, you're a tweeterer?" he said.

A "tweeterer". Well, at least that's some comic relief after last night's mess. The Cubs will try again tonight with Carlos Zambrano going. He's almost certain to last longer than Dempster did. (We hope.)

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