CHICAGO -- Once again, Ryan Dempster pitched well enough to win Wednesday, but once again, the Cubs couldn't come up with enough runs to back him up.
George Kottaras was Dempster's 1,000th strikeout victim in the fifth, and the backup catcher got revenge in the seventh, when he hit a two-run homer to lift the Brewers to a 2-1 victory over the Cubs. Manager Dale Sveum is now 0-3 against his former team.
On Opening Day, Dempster (0-1) struck out 10 and was charged with one run on two hits. On Wednesday, he fanned five over 6 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits. The problem was, one of those hits landed in the Wrigley Field bleachers.
The right-hander is searching for his first win since Aug. 11; he was 0-6 in his last nine starts of 2011.
"I could've won that game today if I make a couple better pitches in the seventh inning," Dempster said. "Those games are the ones where a mistake can cost you a game, and I made a mistake and it cost us the game. I'd like to make some better pitches there, and unfortunately I left a cutter over the plate and he hit it out. That was enough to win the game for them."
Sveum had no complaints about his starter.
"He pitched great, he pitched awesome," Sveum said.
The Brewers trailed, 1-0, going into the seventh, when Mat Gamel doubled to lead off. One out later, Kottaras launched a 1-2 pitch to right.
"He threw everything for strikes and kind of kept us off balance," Kottaras said of Dempster, who notched his 1,000th K with the Cubs when he got the catcher swinging to open the fifth. "It's tough to get in a rhythm when he does that, but we definitely came out on top today. [The pitch] was down and in, and I was trying to stay through the middle. I wasn't trying to hit a home run. I put a good swing on it and off it went."
The Cubs want Dempster to face the Brewers as much as possible. He entered this season with the most wins against them among all active Major League pitchers (15) but has lost his last three starts, including Wednesday.
David DeJesus doubled to lead off the Cubs' first against Yovani Gallardo (1-1), and he scored one out later on Starlin Castro's sacrifice fly. That was it.
Sveum wanted the hitters to be patient against Gallardo, a 17-game winner last season. It didn't work. He stymied the Cubs until the seventh, when Ian Stewart and Bryan LaHair hit back-to-back singles. But Gallardo then struck out the next two batters and got pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt to ground out and end the inning.
"He reached back there when he got in a little trouble in the seventh and dialed it up like I've seen him in the past," Sveum said of Gallardo. "When he gets in trouble in any close game, he dials it up."
All six of the Cubs' games this season have been decided by three or fewer runs. Sveum is trying to get things going and has asked hitters to bunt to take advantage of the defensive shifts. He lifted Marlon Byrd, who is 1-for-21, in the ninth and used Steve Clevenger as a pinch-hitter. The rookie doubled, but closer John Axford then struck out Reed Johnson to end the game and spoil what could've been a nice story. Johnson's wife, Taryn, gave birth to the couple's second child, daughter Jordan, early Wednesday.
"If Marlon's swinging the bat well, I probably don't make that move and save it for another day," Sveum said. "At the time, we have to get Marlon swinging better, and I felt our chances to get somebody on and the way the wind was blowing, 'Clev' could pull the ball and tie the game up."
Dempster appreciated the effort.
"We're playing aggressive, and Gallardo did a good job of pitching," Dempster said. "He's their ace, he's a stud and he shut us down, and that's why I knew going into today it was going to be tough to win a game. I'm upset with myself for making that mistake because we had a chance to win that game if I don't give up that home run."
The Cubs aren't in panic mode.
"It's week one, six games in," Darwin Barney said. "I don't think anyone is pulling the [parachute]."
And it doesn't get any easier. After closing the series against the Brewers on Thursday against Zack Greinke, the Cubs travel to St. Louis to face the defending World Series champions.
"I don't see much of a breather throughout the whole season," Dempster said. "I think there's more parity in baseball. Every series you play, every game you play, any team has a chance to win. That's the nice part about the game nowadays. For us, that's what we're going to do is try to win as many as possible and put losses behind you and build off the wins."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.