Ryan Dempster gets Opening Day nod

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade set his opening rotation, and despite campaigning for his seventh consecutive Opening Day start, Carlos Zambrano will watch Ryan Dempster have that honor this season.

"It's going to be exciting," Dempster said. "It's going be more nerves of anxiousness than nerves of being nervous."

The first three slots in the Cubs' rotation will be filled by Dempster, Zambrano and newly acquired Matt Garza.

"He said he was happy for me, and that I deserved it," Dempster said about a conversation with Zambrano. "That's somebody that I look up to, someone who goes out and competes as hard as anybody I've been around. So it meant a lot to hear something like that from him."

Zambrano will start the road opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 8 after the Cubs open the season with home series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks.

"I can't get away from some of Z's performances in Milwaukee," Quade said. "If you're pitching Game 2 or 3, then you're pitching in Milwaukee.

"Also, to expose an important division rival out of the chute to Garza I thought was important."

Zambrano finished last season 8-0 in his final 11 starts, but he endured a tumultuous first half to the season that included a suspension and anger management therapy following a dugout confrontation with former teammate Derrek Lee.

Dempster has been the most consistent Cubs starter the last several seasons, but he was 0-3 with a 6.88 ERA against Pittsburgh last season.

"They beat us up pretty good," Dempster said. "We'll have to be ready Opening Day to go out and play hard."

Quade had a sit-down meeting with all three starters.

"I think they all understand what I expect from them," Quade said. "I respect the hell out of all of them. And after their response [to the decision], I respect them even more."

The final two spots in the rotation still are open.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.