Dempster fans 9 in 7 innings as Cubs blank Mariners

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 sure looked ready for the season to get here. He 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 -- who was batting because Franklin Gutierrez's stomach felt ill -- then Mariners backup infielder candidate Matt Tuiasosopo and co-starting catcher Adam Moore.

The final strike, a high fastball, seemed to stun Moore. Dempster yelled into his glove before teammates and coaches high-fived him at the top step of the dugout. The scene looked more April or August than March.

"Just the intensity of pitching into the seventh inning and having that situation to pitch out of [is] a stepping stone for the season," Dempster said.

He was 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA in April on his way to 17 wins and an All-Star game in his career-best 2008. But he was just 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in the season's first month last year.

"They say you can't win a pennant in April," he said. "But you can sure lose one."

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 his 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's rebound.

"It's just a progression," the often-intense Australian said of spring training. "My command was where it needed to be."

Chicago's Xavier Nady was 0 for 3 while starting his first game in the outfield since last April, following Tommy John surgery in his elbow. The former Yankee had only one fielding play: he cautiously threw a double by Casey Kotchman back into the infield in the first.

"It felt good," Nady said. "That's all I'm supposed to do out there right now, get to the ball and throw it back into the infield. ... I want to be patient. By no means am I out there cleared to let it loose. I still have a lot of work to do."

Tyler Colvin, the 13th overall pick in the 2006 draft who debuted with Chicago over six games last season, got another hit minutes after manager Lou Piniella said the 24-year-old has won a backup outfielder job.

Colvin, who got a chance this month with Nady rehabilitating, entered Sunday second in the Cactus League with a .475 batting average.

"If we can't take Colvin after the spring he's had, something's wrong," Piniella said. "My gosh, he should be rewarded."

Piniella was told Colvin is waiting until he is on the team plane to Atlanta for Opening Day next week before believing he has a job.

"Well, I'll help him get on the plane," Piniella said, chuckling.

Game notes
Jeff Baker doubled leading off the sixth, moved to third on a single by Ryan Theriot and scored the only run on a sacrifice fly by DH Kosuke Fukudome. ... Piniella said that the last bench job is all that he must settle in camp's final week. Candidates include IFs Kevin Millar and Chad Tracy.