Hot-hitting Ian Happ forcing Cubs’ hand as roster move looms

After another big day at the plate by rookie Ian Happ, Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows how tough it’s going to be to make a roster decision, which could come Friday.

“Is it tough or easy?” Maddon said.

It might be especially tough if you’re infielder Tommy La Stella. Happ has impressed through five games in the majors. He went 2-for-4 in the cleanup spot Thursday, which included a double and a walk in the 9-5 win over the Reds.

Right fielder Jason Heyward (jammed finger) began a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday at Class A South Bend that could last one game and lead to his activation Saturday.

Happ with first-base coach Brandon Hyde after an eighth-inning single Thursday.

The corresponding move could come down to Happ or La Stella (.318 average, .483 on-base percentage) being optioned to Class AAA Iowa.

Maddon suggested it wouldn’t involve sending out a pitcher and taking his bullpen back down to a seven-man staff.

“Of course, Ian is obviously looking like he does not want to go anywhere,” said Maddon, who started the infielder-outfielder in left field Thursday after two starts each in right and center in his first four games.

Happ is 6-for-17 with two doubles, two homers and five walks in five games.

“He’s been a little bit of a spark plug for us,” said veteran Jon Lester (2-2), who pitched into the seventh to help the Cubs push their record to two games over .500 for the first time in nearly two weeks.

“Versatility’s a big part of my game,” Happ said. “I’m just staying in the present moment. I’m having a blast every day. How could you not? It’s just so much fun to be a part of this.”

Happy to see red

The Cubs’ first series sweep of the season pushed their home record over .500 to 10-9, and they scored 25 runs in the three games — albeit against a pitching-challenged Reds team they’ve beaten in 20 of the last 25 meetings (five of six this year).

They’re 16-18 against everyone else.

“It’s a nice first step. I’m not going to go crazy over it,” Maddon said. “We’re still not there yet. We’re getting better. I’m not here to proclaim everything’s well and solved, but we’re getting better.”

Rotation starting to roll

Over the last eight starts, the Cubs’ rotation is 5-3 with a 3.17 ERA, five quality starts and six innings per start.

In the 32 games until then, the rotation was 10-9 with a 4.81 ERA, 10 quality starts and a 5⅓-inning average.

“I’ll say it again: Starting pitching drives the engine,” Maddon said. “I love the way the starting pitching is trending right now.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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