Sports

Ryan Dempster adds leadership and character to Red Sox rotation

He can do an awesome impersonation of Harry Caray and he once aspired to be a stand-up comedian. One of his best friends is Kevin Millar, with whom he consulted before agreeing to his two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Red Sox.

And his first job was delivering the Vancouver Sun.

Ryan Dempster, who hails from Gibsons, British Columbia, was introduced at a news conference Thursday at Fenway Park. The Red Sox need him to be a terrific pitcher, to round out a starting rotation with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and John Lackey, and give the Red Sox a 200-inning performer, a feat he’s performed seven times in his career.

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Dempster, 35, has been a very good pitcher at times throughout his career. There wasn’t anyone better in the National League from June 5 to July 14, when he pitched 33 straight scoreless innings. That included his 3-0 victory over the Red Sox at Wrigley Field June 15, which was when the Cubs really began talking about dealing him.

Dempster loved Chicago and didn’t want to go anywhere. He had to waive his 10/5 rights, and refused to for the Braves. A deal with the Dodgers fell through before Dempster agreed to go to Texas, the team that originally signed him away from going to Notre Dame.

After the season, Dempster finally had control over where he wanted to go. He could have remained in the Chicago area and gone to the Brewers, who were offering close to what the Red Sox did.

“Going into the offseason was an exciting time for me, and the Red Sox were extremely gracious,” said Dempster. “I had the feeling they wanted me more than anybody out there, and I’m excited for the chance to come here and play for such an exciting and historic organization.”

The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound righthander will have to continue his learning curve in the American League. He acknowledged there are differences between the leagues, most notably the designated hitter.

Scouts have indicated Dempster will need to learn to stay away from the meaty parts of the big American League lineups. Because he’s savvy, the Red Sox feel Dempster, who is 124-124 with a 4.33 ERA in his career, can do just that.

Although considered a durable pitcher, he was on the disabled list twice last season — from April 18 to May 3d for a quad strain, then June 18 to July 8 with a lat injury. He passed his physical with the Red Sox, but Dempster had a less-than-stellar 12 starts in Texas after returning from his lat injury, though he went through an excellent stretch over half those starts in which he was 5-1 with a sub-2.00 ERA.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think we’re excited to have Ryan Dempster here,’’ said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “The performance of the other guys that were already here is going to have a bigger impact on our overall rotation performance than any one player we were going to add. We think Dempster is a really good fit for a lot of reasons.”

Dempster has been known to help younger pitchers along the way and he hopes to have an influence, though he’ll probably seek advice of his new teammates on how to tackle the American League lineups.

“I’m very aware that the AL East is a tough division,” said Dempster. “If you go out there and make the pitches and execute, it won’t matter who you’re pitching against or where you’re pitching.”

Dempster has made at least 28 starts and has won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. He made 16 starts for the Cubs last season, posting a 2.25 ERA before being acquired by the Rangers at the July 31 trade deadline. At the time, Dempster ranked second in the National League in ERA. Following the trade, Dempster posted a 7-3 record with a 5.09 ERA for Texas.

One of the other big differences is that Dempster won’t be able to hit, which he enjoyed.

“It’s going to be a little bit different not being able to hit,” he said jokingly. “They’re going to miss my bat in the lineup, but we’ll get through that.”

But his trademark is eating innings.

Dempster indicated it should be every pitcher’s goal to throw 200 innings. “It used to be 300 innings and now it’s 200 innings and even 180 innings is acceptable,” he said.

One thing that has eluded Dempster is a World Series.

“That’s why we play,” he said. “The money and things like that in baseball are great, but I came here because I believe this team has a chance of winning as much as anybody else. I’ve always believed that should be your mentality going into any season.

“Every team’s going to win 50 games. Every team’s going to lose 50 games. It’s what you do with the other 62 that matter.”

Dempster thought the additions of Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, and (possibly) Mike Napoli would vault the Red Sox from 69 wins into contention.

Napoli was Dempster’s teammate in Texas for the final 2½ months of the season.

“He’s one of the best teammates I had in my time in Texas,” Dempster said. “He comes to the ballpark every day to win.”

To make room for Dempster on the 40-man roster, righthander Pedro Beato was designated for assignment.

Meanwhile, Cherington did not talk of progress in trying to resolve a deal for Napoli, whose three-year, $39 million agreement seems to be in jeopardy after the team found a concern during his physical.

“There’s really nothing to comment on,” Cherington said. “As with any free agent, until it’s done, it’s not done. I’ll comment on it as soon as I can, but I can’t right now. We’ve had some more dialogue. I wouldn’t classify it as one way or the other. We’ll see what happens.’’

Cherington indicated there were no plans to have Nick Swisher come to Boston on his meet-and-greet tour, though Swisher remains in the Sox’ picture, as does Cody Ross and Adam LaRoche.

Cherington referred often to the one area he hasn’t solved — first base. Could that mean he doesn’t believe the Napoli situation will be resolved? Cherington refused to give an inkling.

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