"It came down to giving everybody the opportunity, and they're both throwing the ball really, really well," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "In their last starts, they both threw the ball as well as they possibly could. It was more of a wait-and-see kind of thing. I can't say there was one reason or anything like that.
"Ryan Dempster obviously had a little hiccup last year, but his hiccup was mainly the first four weeks of the season, and other than that, he pitched really well with not-so-good defense behind him," Sveum said of the right-hander, who posted a 9.58 ERA in the first month of 2011. "It came down to that as much as anything, and the way he's thrown the ball this spring was the final decision. Garza throwing the way he did [Thursday] against one of the better lineups in baseball, I had to sleep on it a little bit and think about it. The bottom line is, the decision came to Dempster."
Garza will start the Cubs' second game, and Paul Maholm will be slotted into the fifth spot. Maholm was slowed this spring by the flu and was slotted into the No. 5 spot because of the way the others lined up.
That means the Cubs are still deciding who will be Nos. 3-4, and Sveum said he'll make an announcement about that on Wednesday. Jeff Samardzija appears to be a front-runner for one of those spots.
"Opening Day, it means a lot to everyone, people starting in the game, or the Opening Day starter, but I think it does set a tone," Sveum said. "It's very important to come out and play a really sound game. Going in, it's No. 1 [vs.] No. 1, it could possibly be a 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 ballgame, so it's important to play really well behind the guy, too, and not give any outs away."
The Nationals have announced Stephen Strasburg will start the season opener against the Cubs.
"I hope we score a bunch of runs off him and win the game," Dempster said. "We're trying to beat those guys. That's our goal and, for me, the easiest way to do that is to do my part."
This will be Dempster's fourth career Opening Day assignment. He did so twice for the Marlins (2001, '02) and started the season opener last year for the Cubs, taking the loss against the Pirates. He gave up six runs on six hits and four walks over 6 2/3 innings in that game at Wrigley Field.
"I always enjoy Opening Day, especially at Wrigley," Dempster said. "I enjoy walking to the ballpark and seeing how excited everybody is around there. The atmosphere there is pretty incredible. I don't imagine too many places around Major League Baseball that are quite like Wrigley Field on Opening Day. It'll be a lot of fun, a lot of emotions but you have to figure out how to control those emotions and do the best you can."