Dandy Rehab Start For Dempster

Sec Taylor Stadium was the setting for successful rehab starts by Cubs pitchers on back-to-back nights this week, as Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster inched one step closer to returning to big league action with the Chicago Cubs.<BR><BR> Also inside: Matt Weber's fourth dominant outing; Brian Dopirak makes it 35 of 36; Iowa's 50th.

AAA-Iowa Cubs

DES MOINES, Iowa – Ryan Dempster made his second rehab start at Triple-A Iowa Wednesday and tossed 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball, striking out seven and allowing just one hit as the Cubs topped the Albuquerque Isotopes, 6-5. Dempster walked three and also hit a batter.

The big scare didn't come until the ninth inning when the ‘topes rallied for five runs off Jason Szuminski before slugger Joe Dillon struck out with the tying run on base to give Iowa the hard-earned victory. All five runs came with two outs. Szuminski walked Matt Padgett and Chris Aguila to start the rally, which was highlighted by a Derek Wathan three-run triple.

Also in rehab action was shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who started and went 1-for-3 with a double off Isotopes starter Matt Blank in the second inning. The Cubs struck early and often against Blank (2-2), scoring four runs in the first two innings. Calvin Murray added a run-scoring triple and an RBI sac fly as part of Iowa's early offensive brigade. Ricky Gutierrez started at second and chipped in with three hits and an RBI single.

Left-hander Nate Bland got the win, improving to 5-2 on the year. Bland (5-2) allowed one hit in 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. Blank meanwhile allowed five Cub runs in six innings of work. He struck out six and walked three.

Outfielder David Kelton is struggling. Kelton went 0-for-3 again on Wednesday and has hit safely in just one of his last eight games. Szuminski's struggles against left-handed hitters also continued Wednesday. The former San Diego Padre gave up a single to Brian Banks before walking Padgett and allowing three runs to score on Wathan's triple. Left-handed hitters are batting .357 against the right-handed Szuminski in 42 at-bats.

Iowa (50-35) splits their four-game series with the Isotopes and maintains a 4½ game lead over second place Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League's Central Division. Albuquerque is in third place, some seven games behind Iowa. The Cubs welcome the New Orleans Zephyrs (Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros) to town for a four-game series starting Thursday at 7:05 CT. Left-hander Shawn Sedlacek (5-2, 4.20), who recently turned 27, will go for the Cubs in game one of the series against recently-acquired Houston prospect Jeremy Griffiths. Fellow Astros pitching prospects Jared Fernandez, Carlos Hernandez and Taylor Bucholz are also expected to pitch in the series.

AA-West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – Smokies starter Jeremy Cook tossed eight shutout innings and gave up just four hits to outduel Bobby Brownlie and the Diamond Jaxx Wednesday, 1-0. Cook (4-3) struck out three and walked only one. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Skip Schumaker added three hits and drove in the game's only run on a seventh inning double to the gap in left center. Brownlie (7-6) struck out seven in seven innings, giving up just the one run on five hits.

The Jaxx threatened in the top of the ninth when Matt Creighton doubled with two outs and tried to score on a Mike Dzurilla single to right. But Creighton was cut down at the plate on Jon Hamilton's throw home to preserve the victory for the Smokies and closer Carmen Cali, who totaled his 11th save of the year.

Aron Weston was the only member of the Jaxx to join the multi-hit parade Wednesday. Weston put together a nice stint recently when he finished 6-for-20 over the course of last week. He is hitting a robust .351 at home and .285 away from Pringles Park. Brownlie finished 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA in the month of June. So far in July through two starts, he has allowed just one earned run over the course of 13 IP.

The Jaxx head to sunny Jacksonville, Florida beginning Thursday for a four-game set with the Suns beginning at 6:05 CT. Photos from the series will be available this weekend. Left-hander Renyel Pinto (8-4, 3.34) will go for the Jaxx in game one of the series. West Tenn is now 7-7 on the second half of the Southern League season.

Class-A Daytona Cubs

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Anderson Tavarez won for the first time since April 26 as the Daytona Cubs topped the Clearwater Threshers Wednesday, 5-1. Tavarez (3-3) dominated for six innings, limiting the Philadelphia Phillies' Class-A farm hands to just three hits and no runs. He gave up two singles in the first inning, but did not allow a third hit until the fifth when Jack Santora doubled with two outs only to be thrown out trying to advance to third. Tavarez also hit two batters.

Casey McGehee added a homerun, his fifth of the year, and J.J. Johnson tacked on two more runs in the ninth with a two-run double off Hayden Gardner. Gardner struggled with control, walking both McGehee and first baseman Brandon Sing while also hurling two wild pitches.

The Cubs outhit Clearwater, 12-4. Five Cubs – McGehee, Johnson, CF Felix Pie, DH Keith Butler and LF Adam Greenberg – all recorded two hits apiece. Greenberg singled home Pie in the top of the seventh inning.

Pie has certainly been one of the Cubs' most clutch hitters this season. The 19-year-old is batting .452 with 2 outs and RISP in 31 at-bats. Meanwhile, Greenberg has hit safely in all but three of his last 16 games.

The Cubs play one more with Clearwater on Thursday beginning at 6:05 CT with left-hander Jon Connolly (5-2, 2.89) expected to go for Daytona.

Class Mid-A Lansing Lugnuts

LANSING, Mich. – Brian Dopirak extended his hitting streak to 26 games Wednesday with a two-run homer off Virgil Vasquez (9-5), but it wasn't enough to lift the Lansing Lugnuts who fell to the West Michigan Whitecaps, 4-3. Dopirak slugged his league best 24th homerun of the year in the second inning to put the Lugnuts on top 2-0. The Whitecaps scored three in the third off Lansing starter Carlos Marmol, who failed to make it out of the fourth inning. Luis Sabino laced an RBI double down the right field line before West Michigan catcher Danilo Sanchez cracked a two-run homer off Marmol (8-4), who went 3 1/3 and gave up four runs on five hits.

Second baseman Robinson Chirinos added three hits and made it a one-run game with an RBI single in the sixth. In the ninth, Whitecaps closer Eulogio Delacruz nailed down his eighth save, getting Dopirak to ground out to short for the win.

Dopirak has hit safely in 35 of his last 36 games. Only thrice this season has the 20-year-old slugger gone hitless in back-to-back games. He hit .360 for the month of June, belting 10 HR and slugging 27 RBI. On June 7, when Dopirak's hit streak began, he was batting .275. He is now hitting .314 for the year.

Billy Petrick (8-4, 3.09) starts game one of a four-game set with the Burlington Bees beginning Thursday at 6:05 CT from Olds Park.

Class Low-A Boise Hawks

EUGENE, Ore. – Right-hander Matt Weber again started and pitched exceptionally well for the Boise Hawks, but the right-hander came up on the short end Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to Vern Sterry and the Eugene Emeralds. The 19-year-old Weber (1-1) went six innings and allowed only a run on five hits. His only mistake came in the third inning when Craig Johnson doubled and scored on a Ruben Mora RBI single. Sterry (2-1) was not to be outdone, tossing six scoreless innings while allowing just four hits.

Mora stepped up again in the seventh off right-hander Kris Gross and drove in Orlando Diaz with his second RBI single of the night. Luis Montanez added an RBI single for the Hawks' lone run of the night. Brian Burks worked the ninth for his second save, getting Kyle Boyer, Tony Richie and Alfredo Francisco to ground out consecutively.

Weber has held opposing hitters to a .179 clip in four starts, in which he has posted a 1.96 ERA. He has also posted a strikeout to walk ratio of slightly better than 5:1 with 16 K's to just 3 walks.

Game two of the five-game set is scheduled for 9:05 CT on Thursday.

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