He hopes to build off that success starting Tuesday night while trying to help the visiting Cubs record a second straight victory over the Houston Astros and secure their first winning opening series in six years.
Dempster amassed 99 saves in his previous three seasons for the Cubs, but welcomed the transition back to the rotation where he spent his first six before undergoing elbow surgery in 2003.
The NL All-Star right-hander didn’t disappointment, finishing 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA to help Chicago win its second straight Central Division title. Dempster became the first pitcher since Detroit’s John Hiller in 1973-1974 to record 25 or more saves then win at least 17 games the following season.
“You throw a ball over the plate with good conviction and let them hit it, and good things end up happening,” Dempster told the Cubs’ official Web site.
Dempster didn’t fare well the last time he took the mound in a game that counted, allowing four runs and seven walks in 4 2-3 innings of the Cubs’ 7-2 loss to Los Angeles in Game 1 of the NL Division series. He’s also struggled against Houston, going 4-9 with a 5.18 ERA in 15 starts.
Dempster, though, could be in good shape to improve that record after five Chicago pitchers kept the Astros in check during Monday’s 4-2 season-opening victory. Kevin Gregg, who beat out Carlos Marmol for the closer role, allowed a run during a shaky ninth inning to earn his first save as a Cub.
Mike Fontenot went 3-for-4 with two runs scored while Alfonso Soriano hit his 50th leadoff homer and Aramis Ramirez added a solo shot for the Cubs, who haven’t won a season-opening series since 2003 or their first two contests since 1995.
“Soriano, basically in that leadoff hole, is instant offense,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “When he’s focused at home plate, swinging at strikes, he’s an offensive machine.”
Soriano is batting .361 (13-for-36) with five homers and 10 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak against Houston, but is 1-for-9 with an RBI against Astros’ scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez went 9-7 with a career-best 3.54 ERA in 25 starts last season for the Astros.
The left-hander, who has won nine games in each of his last three seasons, is 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in 10 starts against Chicago, including 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA versus the Cubs at Minute Maid Park.
Rodriguez will likely need more run support than the Astros gave ace Roy Oswalt on Monday to improve on his home record against Chicago. Ivan Rodriguez, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee - 2-3-4 in the Astros’ order - went a combined 1-for-10.
“I’m not worried about that,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. “Eventually I know these guys will hit.”
Pence is hitting .429 (6-for-14) with a grand slam versus Dempster while Tejada is batting .308 (4-for-13) against him.