Dempster, Pena step it up against Sox

March, 11, 2011
Levine By Bruce Levine
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Friday was a good day for Cubs starter Ryan Dempster and even a better one for his teammate, Carlos Pena.

Dempster became the first Cubs starter to go five innings and picked up his first win of the spring. He allowed the White Sox just two hits and no runs in the 4-3 victory, while Pena contributed his first home run as a Cub.

“It was good, 60-something pitches,” Dempster said. “It felt really good out there. I pounded the strike zone and had good command of my fastball.”

The veteran pitcher continues to prepare for his Opening Day start on April 1 at Wrigley Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“There’s always other stuff to work on,” Dempster said. I haven’t thrown any [split-fingered fastballs] yet in a game, I’ve just done it on the side. Yet it’s nice to get some confidence going and build up for my next start five or six days from now.”

[+] EnlargeCarlos Pena
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCarlos Pena hit his first home run as a Cub on Friday against the White Sox.
Pena, who had struggled all spring, made consistent contact and homered off White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle in the second inning.

“I always wanted to contribute in some way to a win,” Pena said. “At the end of the day, that’s what I’m here to do. No, it wasn’t a big deal that it was a spring game, but it felt good to see some hard work pay off.”

Dempster, for one, has been impressed with his new teammate’s attitude and work ethic.

“What that is is a reward for all the hard work he put in,” Dempster said. “In spring training you do a lot of early work that people never see. Guys are there from 6 to 8 in the morning. So when you have results for your hard work, it really feels good.”

Pena, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last December, has gone back to the basics with Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who first tutored him when Pena came up in the Texas Rangers farm system.

“One of the things Rudy and I are emphasizing is to go back to the simplest form of hitting,” Pena said. You just get yourself in a ready position to hit, and trust your hands. The rest takes care of itself.”

Pena’s .196 batting average in 2010 was the lowest in 17 years in the major leagues for any player with 502 or more at-bats in a season, but he is confident that he’s found a way to make more consistent contact.

“Believing in myself is a key,” Pena said. “I have to just relax, not be overanxious. That has hurt me in the past.”

Cubs manager Mike Quade would love to bat Pena fifth against right-handed hitting this season, however, Pena must prove that he can at least hit his career average of .241 in order to be viable in that spot.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.



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