PEORIA, Ariz. – Ryan Dempster put a little regular-season pressure on himself: bases loaded, no outs.
Then came a dominant sequence the Cubs hope their No. 2 starter duplicates when the games get real beginning next week.
Dempster struck out three consecutive Mariners with the bases full to end his seven shutout innings. He struck out nine in all and allowed just four hits in Chicago’s 1-0 victory over Seattle on an unusual, shutdown Sunday in the homer-happy desert.
“That was fun,” Dempster said.
For everyone with early dinner plans. The game lasted an hour and 59 minutes, more rare than rainouts in the Cactus League, thanks to Dempster and Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Dempster continually fired low fastballs into the strike zone and worked with a quick, almost ruthless pace. His strikeouts were the most by a Cub this spring. He has 15 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings of his last two spring starts.
“I always said spring training was too long, anyway,” he said, smiling.
Two of the hits against the right-hander who has won 28 games over the last two seasons for Chicago began the seventh, sandwiched around a walk to Ken Griffey Jr. Dempster struck out minor-leaguer Mario Martinez, then Mariners backup infielder candidate Matt Tuiasosopo and co-starting catcher Adam Moore.
The Mariners found the start they’d been looking for from Rowland-Smith. The left-hander commanded the inside of the plate with fastballs and changeups while allowing just five hits and a run. He walked none in seven innings.
Seattle pitching coach Rick Adair called it “special,” a welcome reminder to when Rowland-Smith excelled late in 2009.
One of the few experienced starters behind ace Felix Hernandez who is healthy for the start of the season, Rowland-Smith had allowed 20 hits and 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring before Sunday.