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Dempster Looks To Get Cubs Back On Track

Ryan Dempster

Ryan Dempster (Photo Credit: Getty Images, By: Otto Greule Jr)

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CHICAGO (AP) — Ryan Dempster has come away with a loss in each of his first two starts this season, but he’s headed in the right direction.

The Chicago Cubs will need their top pitcher to be on his game as the team tries to bounce back after a series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dempster (0-2, 6.59 ERA) is taking the ball in the series opener for No. 5 starter Andrew Cashner (strained right rotator cuff), who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday. Cashner is one of two starting pitchers Chicago (4-5) put on the DL on Friday, along with Randy Wells (right forearm strain).

Casey Coleman was called up from the minors to take Wells’ turn in the rotation on Sunday in Milwaukee. He allowed four runs in five innings, and the Cubs ended up losing 6-5, their third defeat in four games.

This stretch started Wednesday, when Dempster allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven innings of a 6-4 loss to Arizona. Although he lost again, there were some positives to take from his latest outing.

After serving up a pair of homers and permitting four walks in an opening-day loss to Pittsburgh, Dempster kept the ball in the park and didn’t issue a base on balls in his second start.

“I like the way I was throwing the ball,” said Dempster, who has only lost three consecutive starts once since joining the Cubs rotation in 2008 – a four-game skid April 29-May 15.

Dempster could have a decent chance of earning his first victory in Houston, where he is 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in his last five starts.

Although he has pitched well against the Astros, Dempster hasn’t had much luck. He is 2-4 in 11 starts versus Houston since 2008 despite a 3.65 ERA.

The Cubs went 7-11 against the Astros in 2010, their most losses in the season series since going 8-11 in 2002.

Houston (2-7) is coming off a 7-2 win over Florida on Sunday to become the last NL team to win its second game.

The Astros, who averaged 3.5 runs in their first eight contests, pounded out a season-high 16 hits and the top three hitters in the batting order – Michael Bourn, Angel Sanchez and Hunter Pence – went a combined 8 for 14.

J.A. Happ, who pitched four-hit ball into the eighth inning, also contributed to the offensive outburst, driving in a pair of runs with a double.

“A real good team win,” Houston manager Brad Mills said. “What a pitching performance, and then everybody in the starting lineup getting a hit. That’s pretty special, when you’re able to put together an attack like that, that’s balanced.”

Mills will now give the ball to Nelson Figueroa (0-1, 10.13), who is hoping to put a rough season debut behind him.

Figueroa was knocked around for career highs of 11 hits and 10 runs – six earned – in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-4 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday.

The right-hander will try to bounce back against the Cubs, whom he recorded a 2.45 ERA in winning two starts against last season.

Figueroa will have to be careful pitching to Aramis Ramirez, who is batting .316 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against him.

Ramirez, who drove in three runs on three doubles Sunday, had six homers and 19 RBIs in 14 games against Houston in 2010.

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.