NEW YORK — The comedian in Ryan Dempster couldn’t help himself.
The question, a day before he was set to make his first start with the Red Sox, was if he had high expectations for himself.
“I’m thinking — I would love — my goal is 30 wins,” he said. “If I can get 30 wins, I”m going to take that. I won’t get greedy. I won’t get greedy, I won’t ask for 33 or 34, I’m just going to try to do that.”
In his 15 seasons, Dempster topped out at 17 five years ago with the Cubs.
The humor was self-deprecating, but he’s managed to carve out a niche for himself almost largely because of his reliability, consistency, and work ethic.
He’s won at least 10 games eight times in his career, including each of the past five seasons. He’s thrown at least 200 innings seven times.
He’s 10th among active pitchers in innings (2,215⅔ ), 16th in starts (322), and 18th in wins (124).
“I’ve always tried to be consistent, whether that’s throwing innings, making my starts, giving us a chance to win and I pride myself on that,” Dempster said. “I work really hard and that’s the reason I do, so when I do go out there and pitch our team has a chance to win that day.”
After a solid spring, he said he is itching to make his Red Sox debut Thursday against the Yankees.
“You get that anxious feeling that you want the season to start,” Dempster said. “I know it started Monday, but for me it starts on Thursday and I’m just looking forward to going out there and getting that first win out of the way.
“Especially toward the end of spring training when you feel ready and you’re waiting for the season to start. It’s almost an anxious feeling.”
His history with the Yankees is short and rough.
In five starts vs. the Yankees dating to 1998, Dempster is winless. Last season was especially tough. He had just joined the Rangers, he was three games into his American League adjustment, and the Yankees rocked him for eight runs on nine hits. Rude welcome aside, he said he’s more comfortable now since switching leagues.
“You’ve just got to continue to make pitches, just make as many quality pitches,” Dempster said. “The biggest adjustment is you’re facing a bona fide middle-of-the-lineup hitter instead of a pitcher. So that just requires making more quality pitches, but other than that, the game’s all the same. You face hitters whether it’s American League or National League and you just go out there and make pitches.”
The adjusting to the Sox clubhouse, however, has been smooth, he said.
“I’ve only been here for seven weeks but I feel like I’ve been with these guys for a long time,” Dempster said. “We get along really well, we all have bonded really well. It’s just another start, I’ll go out there and do what I can and try to do what I can to give us a chance to win a game.”
The approach he takes with day-to-day tasks fits in with the rest of the pitching staff, said manager John Farrell.
“There are guys that have been successful that their work routine is a priority to them,” Farrell said. “He’s very dependable, very consistent not only in terms of his personality but his work and his performance.”
The Yankees’ current lineup is a shell of the star-studded one that bullied him last season.
But Dempster still recognizes a threat when he sees one.
Asked how he planned to approach Robinson Cano, Dempster deadpanned, “Miss the barrel of his bat. I’m going to try to do that tomorrow and see if it works.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.