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Dempster, Lee power Cubs to win over LA

Dempster, Lee power Cubs to win over LA

CHICAGO -- Something Lou Piniella said to Derrek Lee clicked, and Tuesday may have been the night the Cubs' first baseman found his groove.

Lee hit a two-run homer and an RBI single to back Ryan Dempster's stellar outing and lift the Cubs to a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dempster snapped a personal four-game losing streak with the win, throwing eight shutout innings. Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 12 chances.

Lee entered the game batting .218 and had gone 2-for-17 on Chicago's recent five-game road trip. It's been a struggle for the first baseman, who won the National League batting title in 2005.

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"Let's get Derrek going in a way we're accustomed to seeing, and that will really help us," Piniella said.

Whatever Piniella said to Lee will stay between the two of them.

"I talked to Lou today, and he gave me a good tip," Lee said.

It's not that he's been avoiding hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Lee maintains he knows his swing better than anyone.

"I've had my swing a long time," Lee said. "To change your swing, that takes a lot of work. There's no issue there [with Jaramillo].

"I just had a terrible start," Lee said. "I don't know why I get off to slow starts. I wish I did."

Last year, Lee batted .189 in April, then rebounded to hit .313 in May and finished the year at .306.

"I felt good today," said Lee, whose homer was the 299th of his career. "I took some good swings and I haven't done that for a long time. Hopefully, it's the start of something."

Maybe Tuesday was a turnaround for Dempster (3-4), too. The right-hander has a 2.05 ERA in his past four starts at Wrigley Field, yet was winless until this game. Against the Dodgers, he struck out seven and walked one.

"Dempster's very tough," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He pitched effectively. Around the fourth or fifth inning, he started using his changeup more, in addition to his slider and split and fastball. We weren't very patient."

Dempster is now 3-0 in his past three starts against Los Angeles and has not given up a run to the Dodgers in 22 innings. And this L.A. team came into the game leading the NL in hitting.

"Tonight, [Dempster] was facing a very formidable lefty [in Clayton Kershaw]," Piniella said. "There wasn't much margin for error. The Dodgers are a good hitting ballclub, and he pitched exceedingly well."

Dempster retired the last 13 batters he faced, and he faced the minimum in six of his eight innings.

"I felt, early on, I wasn't pumping the strike zone the way I would've liked to," Dempster said. "I tried to execute pitches and get ahead as much as possible and stay away from 3-1 counts and 2-0 counts and things like that, and just keep putting pressure on and let the defense do the work behind me, and they did a great job."

The Cubs' defense has shown marked improvement in recent games.

"We were pretty sloppy the first month and a half of the season," Lee said. "We've tightened it up, and pitching and defense wins. You can't afford to give the other team outs."

The Dodgers proved that in the sixth. Ryan Theriot was safe on a fielding error by shortstop Rafael Furcal -- who was activated from the disabled list prior to the game -- to lead off the sixth, and one out later, stole second before scoring on Lee's single.

In the eighth, Starlin Castro reached on another error by Furcal to set up Lee's opposite-field homer, his sixth, off Ramon Troncoso. Castro has now reached base safely by either a hit, error or walk in all 17 games he's played.

Marmol pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. Dempster, the only Cubs starter who has stayed on a five-day routine, was OK handing the ball to the closer.

"I'm not about trying to pad my stats with a shutout," Dempster said. "I'm just glad we got the win."

It was perfect timing. Several of the Chicago Blackhawks were in attendance and sitting near the Cubs' dugout. Dempster is a huge hockey fan and helped organize a team outing at one of the Blackhawks' games this season. Tuesday was a day off as the team preps for the Stanley Cup Finals, which begin Saturday.

"It was exciting for all the guys," Dempster said about having the Blackhawks there. "I've been pulling for them really hard. The city deserves something like that. To see a team in the Stanley Cup Finals -- and what better group of guys than those guys. They're all first-class individuals, and I hope they're hoisting the cup above their heads real soon."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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