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Cubs leadoff man Ian Happ fights off ‘bad approach’ since 1st-pitch HR in opener

Ian Happ

CINCINNATI — The Cubs haven’t even played a week yet. A month from now, many of the ugly early hitting numbers likely will be long forgotten.

But that doesn’t mean Ian Happ is shrugging off the 72 pitches since he hit the first one of the season into the upper deck Thursday in Miami.

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“That was a cool first moment,” said Happ, whose huge spring earned him the majority share of the Cubs’ leadoff job. “And then there were some really bad at-bats in a row after that. But it’s such a small sample size. Let’s see where it’s at after four or five or 600 at-bats.”

Nobody’s panicking over the first few games for the Cubs’ second-year switch hitter.

But it does come just a year after another young hitter, Kyle Schwarber, struggled for weeks in that role until being moved out of the spot.

And Happ’s immediate response to the home run was striking: In his 10 plate appearances after belting that pitch to right, he popped up twice, flied to left and struck out swinging seven times.

“He just got in a pull mode too fast,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He hit the home run in the first game, first pitch, and then all of a sudden, he started playing over here [right field] left-handed.”

Happ knows. And he’s on it.

“There’s a little bit of good pitching there,” he said. “We’ve seen some good arms and some bad approaches and some poor at-bats put together, by me personally, not by the team.

“That’s something that’s very fixable, something that I’m addressing and working on. We saw some better at-bats [Monday] and just continue to go through the process.”

Even before the game was rained out Tuesday, Happ was scheduled to sit with a lefty pitching for the Reds and right-handed-hitting Albert Almora Jr. getting a turn in center.

But coming off back-to-back shutouts in Miami on Sunday and against the Reds on Monday, Maddon already was scrutinizing his leadoff spot. Almora led off the two previous games against lefties, as he had all spring, but Maddon had Ben Zobrist leading off in Tuesday’s lineup.

“I don’t know if that was the residue of shutouts as much as I think Zobrist is looking pretty good right now,” Maddon said, raving about the quality of Zobrist’s at-bats compared to many of his younger hitters. “Zo, among all of our guys, gives you that pro at-bat as often as anybody. Right now, he looks like he’s ready to roll.”

With left-hander Brent Suter scheduled to start the series opener Thursday for the Brewers, Maddon could carry over the same lineup.

But Happ is all but certain to be back in the leadoff spot against the next right-hander, and again after that.

“It’s just getting back into the flow of the season,” Happ said. “You’re seeing different pitches than you did all spring. It’s just getting back into the flow, into the rhythm of what it’s like to play nine innings every day.”

After those rough 10 at-bats following the homer, Happ has walked twice and singled in seven plate appearances, striking out three times but seeing more pitches even in those at-bats.

“He strikes out,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He struck out a lot last year. That’s part of his gig. But he’ll figure it out. He’ll get away from that.”

Happ stood atop the National League with the early lead in strikeouts (10).

The big key, Maddon said, is getting back to using the whole field as he did during the spring, when he drove the ball to left-center a lot.

“He hasn’t shown that propensity yet,” Maddon said. “When he gets back over there, he’ll take off.”