Dempster to open Cactus campaign

 
 
Published: 2/23/2008 12:27 AM

MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Dempster will be the Cubs' starting pitcher opening-day starting pitcher. That is, he'll start next Thursday's Cactus League opener against the Giants in Scottsdale.

Carlos Zambrano will pitch Friday against the Giants at HoHoKam Park, and Jason Marquis gets the call Saturday against the Angels in Tempe.

Starting pitchers generally go only an inning or 2 in the beginning, and manager Lou Piniella said he'd use about seven pitchers in each game during the early going.

"It's just a spring-training game," Dempster said. "I'll be glad to start playing games and go out there and build some innings up."

Dempster had just a few more words Friday in his good-natured war of words with Baltimore's Kevin Millar. The Cubs host the Orioles June 24-26. Dempster and Millar, friends and former teammates in Florida, have been enjoying some back-and-forth banter.

"He said he was going to go across the street on the Budweiser building," Dempster said, referring to a home run threat by Millar. "Unless he's hitting it from the bleachers, I don't see him getting it all the way to the Budweiser building.

"Let's face it, I think he's a little bit past his prime. What has he really done the last four years? Ever since he walked off Mariano Rivera, that's kind of all he's done. I'm going to throw it down the middle as hard as I can when I face him. I can pretty much guarantee it'll be a broken-bat, rolled-over to shortstop like he does 90 percent of the time he's hitting."

Samardzija impresses: Right-hander Jeff Samardzija threw living batting practice Friday, drawing good reviews from catcher Henry Blanco.

"He showed he had pretty good stuff," Blanco said. "He throws pretty hard. He was working with his spots pretty good with the fastball. He looked like he knew what he wanted to do with his pitches."

Samardzija is in his second big-league camp. The Cubs drafted the former Notre Dame football star in the fifth round in 2006. He went 3-8 with a 4.95 ERA last year at Class A Daytona before going 3-3 with a 3.41 ERA at Class AA Tennessee.

"It was probably the best day so far for me," he said. "I've been pretty happy with my off-speed stuff all camp and before that. Just the fastball hasn't really been there. Today was definitely not the same case. It felt good."

Samardzija threw mainly fastballs, changeups and sliders Friday.

"My most comfortable pitch is clearly my sinker, especially when I'm throwing it away to a lefty or in to a righty," he said. "For me, it's just to get all the other three pitches at that same level of comfort for me."

All right: In making up his lineups this year, Lou Piniella will have to work around one major factor.

"The one problem that we have here, and it's not a problem, it's just a fact, is that we're very right-handed," Piniella said. "I don't want to get caught with all this right-hand hitting all bunched up in one area.

"It makes it too easy for the opposing manager to bring in a tough right-handed reliever, and he can go take a nap for a couple innings."