My move from the starting rotation to the bullpen back in 2004 offered me a way to help the team at the time, but it also provided another career opportunity.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2003, I was healthy and making rehab starts in 2004 when I suggested a move to the bullpen. Our other starters were all healthy at the time and it gave me a chance to get back with the club and help win some games.
I made 23 appearances out of the bullpen that year. Things just seemed to take off from there. In 2005, I made six starts at the beginning of the season, but I returned to the 'pen by early May and I've been there ever since.
Over the last couple years, I've talked with a few guys who have made the transition from starter to reliever, including Mike Remlinger and Kent Mercker. I've also talked to some of the top closers, like Troy Percival and Trevor Hoffman just to see what goes on in their heads. I just like to pick their brains to see what I can learn.
This game is about learning, and if you can learn from the best, then it can only help you to improve.
Brad Lidge is my favorite current reliever right now. I'm buddies with him, plus he has been pretty dominant at times. I'd take him on my team any day. As for my all-time favorite reliever, I would have to go with Rod Beck. I liked his mentality.
In the past, the closer role has been somewhat ambiguous with the Cubs. Hopefully I'm the guy that can end that streak.
I had a lot of success at the start of this past season. Back then, I was trying not to think about it too much. I just try to go out there and execute pitches. Early on, I was able to keep the guys off base. That philosophy seemed to help me.
At one point, I was 37 out of 39 in save opportunities, but even in those two blown saves, we won the games and that's all I cared about. But I had a couple of rough stretches during the season, which shows that I still have a lot to learn and some adjustments to make.
I've experienced some success with the Cubs for a variety of reasons. The most important one being that I have been healthy here for the most part. Another reason is that I'm in a great environment with a great group of guys.
But, of course, the opportunity that came along in 2004 following my injury put me in a position that has allowed that success. In 2007, my goal will be to try to help the team win games. The numbers don't matter. If I only get 12 saves but the team goes to the postseason, I'll be happy.
Ryan Dempster, who was used exclusively as a starter in his first six Major League seasons, has converted 59 of 71 save opportunities since joining the Cubs' bullpen in 2004.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.