CHICAGO – Ryan Dempster hears the chatter.
Dempster understands there’s a good chance he will not finish the season with the Cubs and would be lying if he said otherwise. However Dempster tries to keep his focus solely on the Cubs amid his best stretch as a starting pitcher as the July 31 trade deadline looms.
“For me, honestly, I’m well aware of things going on and rumors and things like that,” Dempster said. “But I’m a member of the Chicago Cubs and I’m trying to do my best job for this team and for my teammates and to go out there and be ready every fifth day to give my best effort.
“I have been really fortunate that this city has been tremendous to me and my family and I am so thankful for every opportunity and I’m trying to give my best effort when I am out there and have truly enjoyed every minute of it.”
In what has become the norm, Dempster (5-3) dazzled Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, throwing six shutout innings in the Cubs’ 4-1 win. It marked his fifth consecutive start without allowing a run dating to June 5 at Milwaukee.
Darwin Barney hit an RBI double for the Cubs, and Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless ninth for his ninth save in 11 chances. Chris Young homered for Arizona in the seventh off James Russell.
Dempster’s 33-inning scoreless streak is a career high, surpassing his 301⁄3 consecutive shutout innings in the 2005 and ’06 seasons as a reliever. His feat is the longest scoreless-innings streak by a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman (also 33 innings) in 1969.
Dempster’s domination has put him in elite company. He owns one of only four streaks in club history to reach 33 scoreless innings since 1918. Along with Holtzman, Bill Lee pitched 37 and 35 consecutive shutout innings in 1938. The franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched by a starter is 44 by Ed Reulbach in 1908.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Dempster said. “I think as a reliever when you do something like that it seems more realistic because you’re going out there one inning at a time. But to go out there start after start and not give up any runs, it’s pretty humbling. I’m just trying to get outs and win ballgames, I’m not expecting that.”
General manager Jed Hoyer has fielded quite a few calls inquiring about player availability, and Dempster’s name has certainly been included in those conversations. While the Cubs have players that other teams want, Hoyer said any moves the Cubs make will be to help the organization.
“You’ll talk to every GM just to see what they are doing and what they are thinking,” Hoyer said. “Even if you don’t have a direct fit with them you might have an indirect fit so teams try to be as diligent as possible to talk to everyone.”
Even though the Cubs have won 11 of their past 15 games, they still sit in fifth place in the NL Central, 14 games out of first place. It’s not an enviable situation to be in, Hoyer said, and while sitting outside of the playoff hunt allows the Cubs to improve for the future it’s a frustrating situation.
“That’s where you sort of have to have that long view to make those moves. But that’s why being in that position isn’t one you want to be in very often,” Hoyer said. “You feel like, yes, you can make improvements for long term, but there is a reason there are teams calling, because there are good players. I think that is never a good feeling.”
Dempster’s clubhouse leadership and on-field presence almost outweighs his great statistics, including his league-leading 1.86 ERA. The Cubs are cognizant of the leadership he provides, and his teammates hope Dempster, who is a free agent after the season, sticks around as long as possible.
“When he’s not throwing, he’s helping the team out because he’s easygoing, he’s happy, he’s having a lot of fun,” second baseman Darwin Barney said. “He’s just that guy that would be tough to lose. You don’t want to lose a guy like Demp. But whatever happens, happens. Right now he’s on our team, and we’re really happy about that.”