Sveum has bold praise for Cubs starters

MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Dempster wrapped up his on-field work at spring training on Friday. The next time he takes the mound it will be on Opening Day at the head of a rotation fixed on making some noise in the National League Central.

“I’ll stack our starting rotation with anybody, really,” manager Dale Sveum said “It’s a pretty nice rotation if they live up to their capabilities.”

Dempster will be followed by Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm when the season begins on Thursday at Wrigley Field.

“As far as stuff-wise, command, the inability to walk people, it’s huge when you’re talking about a pitching staff, throwing strikes and keeping the ball on the ground, making quality pitches,” Sveum said. “We have five guys who can do that. We have five guys who can move the ball, make the ball go sideways. It’s a nice, rounded-out starting staff that everybody on it is a completely different pitcher too.”

For Dempster, his aim will be to avoid the slow start that hung like a cloud over his entire season in 2011. He had a 9.58 ERA after his first six starts, turned things around in the middle of the season but ended the year losing his last six decisions. His 14 defeats were a career high.

Returning to Cactus League play Friday after making his previous start in a minor-league game, Dempster gave up one run on four hits over 4 2/3 innings to the Dodgers. He walked three with three strikeouts.

That was a huge improvement over his last outing against Single-A competition when he gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings. While admitting he wasn’t sharp on that day, Dempster was also working on things that he otherwise wouldn’t incorporate during a typical outing.

Just counting his Cactus League action, Dempster finished the spring with a 3.26 ERA. Although, he gave up as many as eight hits in an outing.

Still, with the potential to be a steady starter, Dempster doesn’t seem to scream staff ace in the way guys like Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw do. It will have to be a collective effort and with the season approaching Dempster thinks like Sveum does.

“I think we have the potential to do really well but we have to go out there and prove that,” Dempster said. “You see what [Samardzija] has done this spring it’s been pretty impressive. Volstad has been a huge addition and [Maholm] has pitched unbelievable.

"We have a chance to go out there and really push each other to do well and get the best out of each other, all five of us. Hopefully we will be there with any rotation. But we have to go out and prove it.”