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Cubs’ Ian Happ returns from eye injury, watches pair of homers fly

How well is Happ seeing the baseball this season? Insert “2020 vision” crack here.

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game One
Ian Happ homered Saturday in his first at-bat since fouling one off his eye in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

How well is Cubs leadoff man Ian Happ seeing the baseball this season? Scary-well, actually.

Insert “2020 vision” crack here.

The team’s best hitter so far — and it’s not even close — didn’t just feel it Thursday in Pittsburgh when his foul ball bounced off the ground in the batter’s box and smacked him in his right eye. He saw every detail of that sucker coming.

“I watched it happen,” he said. “As the ball was spinning, my eyes were open, so I kind of watched the [seam] contact the eyeball. I felt that.

“It was definitely scary in the moment, and definitely scary when I got up to a knee there and was kind of trying to get my bearings and figure out if I could see. I just tried to blink it out, [but] it was really blurry.”

Happ couldn’t see well enough to finish that at-bat, but after letting the scratch on his eye and the bruise above it heal for a day, he was back in the lineup in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. And what did he do on Adam Wainwright’s second pitch of the game? He hit his team-leading 11th home run inside the foul pole in right.

Four innings later, Happ took Wainwright deep again — No. 12, also a solo shot — this time to left-center.

See it. Smash it. That’s how a guy works his way into the National League MVP conversation.

Happ has been outstanding all season, but he was on a 14-for-32 tear when the foul ball hit him. Thursday night was unpleasant; he felt pain when blinking and couldn’t shake the sensation that he had something stuck in his eye. Friday was a bit better. Saturday: a whole new ballgame.

“Vision is so important for us as hitters,” he said.

Strop hope

The Cubs would be delighted if Pedro Strop, who agreed to a minor-league deal Friday after being released by the Reds, proved at the team’s alternate site in South Bend, Indiana, that he’s ready to bolster the bullpen. From 2013 to ’19, he was one of the best — and most-liked — relievers the Cubs had.

“Pedro’s been a big part of this group, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” manager David Ross said. “I mean, the guy is infectious. His personality, the way he carries himself, the way he works — he can really affect the room.

“But, ultimately, the goal is to get him back to being able to help us on the field. That’s first and foremost. And then, obviously, all those benefits come with him.

Ins and outs

The Cubs claimed infielder Ildemaro Vargas off waivers from the Twins. Vargas, 29, a switch hitter, has a .255 average with seven home runs and 34 RBI in 136 career games, all but 24 of them with the Diamondbacks. His best season was in 2019, when he hit .269 with six homers and 24 RBI in 211 plate appearances.

• Reliever Jharel Cotton was released by the team’s alternate site, and reliever Casey Sadler was claimed off waivers by the Mariners.

• Right-hander Tyson Miller was recalled from South Bend before Game 2 of the doubleheader. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was designated for assignment.