FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ryan Dempster has 15 big-league seasons to his credit and has averaged almost exactly 200 innings over the last five seasons.
But for the veteran right-hander, spring training isn't a grind. It's more like an opportunity.
"We're out there and our job during the season is get outs,'' said Dempster after his Grapefruit League debut. "So why not practice doing that as much as we can. For me, I've always taken that approach in spring training, whether I'm a young guy trying to work my way in, or a veteran guy.
"I practice trying to get outs. You can learn a lot. There are [opposing hitters] you might face during the year. It's an opportunity to learn.''
Dempster was sharp in his first spring outing, tossing two scoreless innings while striking out two and walking none in what turned out to be a 15-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
"My body felt good, my arm felt good,'' reported Dempster. "I was able to attack the strike zone for the most part. It was a good first day.''
"He threw the ball well," said manager John Farrell. "He established his fastball, showed a good split against lefties and righties both. He went out and did exactly what we hoped he'd do in two innings. He was clean, he controlled the running game well; I thought he threw the ball well for his first time in camp."
Right from his first outing, Dempster works on a checklist, trying to perfect his tempo and location.
This is a season of change for Dempster. After almost nine seasons as a Chicago Cub, he's beginning his first full season in the American League and has a lot to learn. Part of the adjustment is getting comfortable with the catchers.
"I've had a chance to have some dinner together [with the catchers],'' said Dempster, "and get to know each other. It's just communication. You could sit there and not talk about it and just guess and find yourself in a little bit of a battle trying to figure each other well. Or you can just talk to each other and it tends to go really well.
"All the guys we have catching have done an unbelievable job with that, from the day I got over here. Right away, it was 'Hey, what do you like to do? Where do you like me to set up?' So today was real easy.''
With only 12 American League starts in his career -- all of them in the final two months of last season when he was traded from the Cubs to the Texas Rangers -- Dempster has to learn the league quickly.
"I try to pick the brains of the other starters,'' he said. "Those guys were facing those [hitters] a lot last year. [Pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] does an unbelievable job of preparing for the hitters and the video is there. There's nothing like feeling it yourself and facing guys, But of you study hard enough and you look at the numbers and the video, you can have an idea.
"Then you have to go out there and execute.''