Happ goes, Cubs go? Ian back for second chance at leadoff role

SHARE Happ goes, Cubs go? Ian back for second chance at leadoff role
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Happ. Focused.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn’t sound as committed to it this time around, but it looks as though Ian Happ will get a second chance to try to win a sizable share of the Cubs’ leadoff role.

‘‘We’ll find out,’’ said Maddon, who returned Happ — his Opening Day leadoff hitter — to the top spot for the first time since April 17. ‘‘I just thought he’s looked better. He’s coming off a nice streak on the road trip. . . . Happ’s probably as good as he’s been all year.’’

There were no second chances last season for Kyle Schwarber once he slumped his way out of the season-opening leadoff job on the way to a June demotion to the minors.

The switch-hitting Happ had a similar look in April. After hitting the first pitch of the major-league season for a home run in Miami, Happ immediately fell into a tailspin at the plate, going 4-for-31 with 18 strikeouts in the next seven-plus games.

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In his second big-league season, Happ was pulling off the ball, was striking out at an increasing rate and was the subject of demotion speculation as he spent more time on the bench.

‘‘I think it was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit,’’ said Happ, who came off the bench and took four pitches before driving a 2-2 pitch off the right-field video board in the ninth inning Tuesday. ‘‘That’s why we play 162 games and it’s a game of averages.’’

Happ was on a 12-for-36 run that featured nine extra-base hits and 11 walks (five intentional) before leading off the game Wednesday with a walk. He finished 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

Maddon said it was about Happ ‘‘slowing things down,’’ finding his opposite-field stroke and staying in the strike zone.

Switch-hitting Ben Zobrist and right-handed-hitting Albert Almora Jr. still figure to get a large share of at-bats in the leadoff spot for now.

‘‘The way our team is structured, it just depends who’s in the lineup that day,’’ Happ said of his leadoff expectations. ‘‘I think we’ll all see time up there depending on who’s in.’’

Walk this way

Pitching coach Jim Hickey had right-hander Tyler Chatwood back to work more aggressively than usual on the day after a start because of a six-walk outing Tuesday in which Chatwood failed to get out of the third inning.

Chatwood, who walked only two in his previous outing in Atlanta, said in the last week that he has fallen into bad habits mechanically this season with his unusually ‘‘busy’’ delivery.

His already-high career walk rate has nearly doubled to 7.9 per nine innings since signing a three-year deal with the Cubs, and he leads the majors with 40 walks in 45 2/3 innings.

Despite the extra work and attention, Maddon said he doesn’t plan to use the Cubs’ day off Thursday to back up Chatwood a few extra days or to skip his turn in the rotation.

‘‘I really want him back out as quickly as we possibly can,’’ Maddon said, emphasizing Chatwood’s plus stuff that keeps his hits allowed down. ‘‘He’s going to have a really impactful season for us.

‘‘I’m zero concerned. I like the way this guy goes about his business. I believe in him. And I think you’re going to see a really good result.’’

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