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Johnny Cueto
Cincinnati Reds starter Johnny Cueto throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, May 8, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO -- The ivy covering the walls at Wrigley Field is still mostly a winter brown, a sign that full-fledged spring in the upper Midwest has not arrived. The same can be said for the Chicago Cubs' offense. It's yet to blossom.

The Cubs had several prime scoring chances again Sunday -- twice loading the bases -- but couldn't come up with a big hit against Johnny Cueto and four Cincinnati relievers as the Reds took the finale of a three-game series 2-0.

"There's no magic formula," Chicago manager Mike Quade said, echoing a familiar lack-of-offense theme for his 15-18 team. "Sooner or later you relax and get it done."

Who knows when? Now, the Cubs' young star, 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, is scuffling. After an 0-for-4 outing Sunday, he is 2 for 25 in his last six games.

Chicago loaded the bases in the seventh. After Alfonso Soriano's leadoff single finished Cueto, Sam LeCure plunked pinch-hitter Reed Johnson and walked Kosuke Fukudome with two outs before retiring Castro on a grounder to third.

"He's just not very patient," Quade said of Castro, adding that it's an adjustment time for the young player. "He's just expanding the strike zone too much. As good as he is, guys who pitch at this level will take advantage of that if you're not disciplined enough."

Chicago also threatened in the third when starter Ryan Dempster singled and made it to third on an error by shortstop Edgar Renteria, who made an errant flip to second after fielding Fukudome's grounder. But moments later, Dempster was tagged out trying to score on a grounder to third baseman Miguel Cairo. Marlon Byrd then reached on an infield single to load the bases, but Aramis Ramirez flied out.

Quade said it was a tough play for Dempster to read and that the Cubs want the runner to break to force the action, if there is a chance a double play can be turned. The Reds went to the plate instead, Dempster was an easy out and the Cubs couldn't convert.

"We are losing games because we are not hitting the way we like to," said Ramirez, who is batting. 273 but has only one homer and 12 RBIs in the first five weeks. "We hit some balls hard, but the wind was blowing in."

Carlos Pena, who homered Saturday in a comeback victory, hit a long shot to the center-field wall in the ninth on Sunday but Drew Stubbs hauled it in.

Ramirez said it's too early to panic or to make major alterations.

"If you start changing, you are going to struggle," Ramirez said. "You got to stick. That's what I told Pena today -- just keep swinging, keep doing what you've got to do and don't change anything."

Dempster had his second straight strong outing after a shaky beginning. The Cubs' opening-day starter went seven innings, giving up five hits and two runs, one on a solo homer by Stubbs. Dempster had no walks and four strikeouts.

"More quality pitches than he was throwing early on. He just looks more in control of himself, like he's got it figured out," Quade said.

Dempster was encouraged.

"Anything is better than the way I was pitching," he said. "I like the way I threw the ball. I didn't walk anybody."

NOTES: Virginia Commonwealth basketball coach Shaka Smart, who led the Rams to the Final Four this year, threw out the first pitch to Cubs reliever Sean Marshall, who attended VCU. Smart also sang during the seventh-inning stretch. ... Some players used pink bats, while others and home plate umpire Bob Davidson sported pink wristbands to raise breast cancer awareness on Mother's Day. Soriano wore pink shoes to honor his mother, who died in January of an apparent heart attack. ... Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija pitched a perfect eighth and has compiled 14 straight scoreless innings.

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