MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella was looking for a good outing from Ryan Dempster on Wednesday, and he got it.

The No. 2 man in the Cubs rotation, Dempster threw five shutout innings in an 8-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants in front of a HoHoKam Park record crowd of 13,024. Jose Ascanio could not hold onto a 5-3 lead, giving up five runs in the ninth to take the loss.

If this had been a regular-season game, the Cubs would've used their bullpen differently and inserted the closer with the two-run lead.

"You're going to give up runs here," Piniella said. "Today I was basically concerned about watching Dempster pitch -- that's what I came to the ballpark looking to see and we got a real nice performance. Five innings, 70 pitches or so, and I couldn't ask for anything more."

Dempster was happy, too.

"The ball was coming out nice," he said, "and I seemed to get ahead quite a bit today and even the hits they were getting were ahead-in-the-count type of hits. I had a good slider and good life in my ball."

He is on the same pace as last season, which was his first back in the rotation after spending three seasons as the Cubs closer. Now, the emphasis is on increasing his stamina and building up arm strength and endurance.

Piniella also was happy to see Alfonso Soriano have good at-bats. Soriano led off the game with his third spring home run and also singled in the second. Micah Hoffpauir, starting at first base for Derrek Lee, who is still out with a sore right quad, had an RBI triple. Lee was expected back in the Cubs lineup Friday.

Milton Bradley also was not available for the Cubs. He's been sidelined with the flu and was with his wife, who was in labor.

Sean Marshall pitched one inning Tuesday in Glendale, which was to get him in line for the regular season. The lefty has apparently won the spot in the rotation, so it'll be Carlos Zambrano, Dempster, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden and Marshall.

Lilly was still with Team USA, which advanced to the semifinal round with a 6-5 come-from-behind win Tuesday against Puerto Rico. Jeff Samardzija will slide into Lilly's spot for now in the spring rotation.

"It'll get him more experience, get him more work," Piniella said. "The other starters are in place."

Both Dempster and Piniella were happy to hear that the Cubs are retiring No. 31 in honor of Greg Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins.

"Two great Cubs," Piniella said. "It's a well-deserved honor and a classy thing for the organization to do."

Dempster received lots of support and tips from Maddux when the two were together with the Cubs.

"He won't take any credit for it but he's helped me a lot in my career," Dempster said. "[Jenkins] is the kind of guy who you looked at his numbers and couldn't believe he put up those numbers. He was a player, not just a pitcher. He hit, he fielded his position, and he put up some pretty dominating numbers.