Cubs’ David Ross: Ian Happ is the ‘MVP of our group’ to start the season

Outfielder Ian Happ entered play Wednesday leading Cubs hitters in batting average and on-base percentage.

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Cubs outfielder Ian Happ has put together a strong start to the season on defense and at the plate.

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ has put together a strong start to the season on defense and at the plate.

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Manager David Ross had high praise for left fielder Ian Happ.

“The MVP of our group probably would be Happ for me,” he said before the Cubs faced the White Sox on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Happ’s strong start is reflective of adjustments he has made over the last year.

“From both sides of the plate, obviously right-handed, much improved,” Ross said. “The home run off Max Fried, going the other way, multiple hits to the other side early in the season from the right side. And, obviously, his continued patience at the plate from the left side and driving runs in, taking his walks. He’s been a real staple in the middle of our lineup and a really big piece for us.”

Happ entered play leading qualified Cubs hitters in batting average (.304) and on-base percentage (.424). Seiya Suzuki still held the best slugging percentage (.500).

Happ’s splits have traditionally favored his left-handed swing, but he has begun the season batting .364 from the right side (22 at-bats) and .277 from the left (47 at-bats).

Happ also has made a number of notable plays in the outfield, including a couple of diving catches.

“The defense has improved so much,’’ Ross said, ‘‘and the way he’s playing outfield for us, the way he’s moving, the way he’s running the bases.”

A couple of weeks into the season, Suzuki led the team in most offensive categories. But as Suzuki’s production has slowed recently — he had three hits in his previous 28 at-bats entering Wednesday — Happ’s has held steady.

Suzuki, of course, is a month into his debut season in the majors, whereas Happ is long past that initial transition period.

“Now you’re seeing the league adjust [to Suzuki],” Ross said. “And he’s also in that same boat of adjusting back to pitchers and seeing a lot of these guys for the first and second time.”

Contreras returns to lineup

Catcher Willson Contreras was back in the lineup and behind the plate after taking three games off from catching. He served as the designated hitter Saturday in Milwaukee.

Ross announced Tuesday that Contreras was available off the bench but had been dealing with a minor undisclosed ailment.

Miley on rehab assignment

Left-hander Wade Miley left Chicago for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa. He is scheduled to pitch Thursday.

Miley, whom the Cubs signed this past winter, began the season on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation. When he returns, Miley will add another veteran presence to the rotation.

Rotation shuffle

The Cubs have adjusted their rotation plans after having reliever Scott Effross start in Drew Smyly’s place Tuesday, when Smyly went on the bereavement list. The Cubs’ probable starter Friday in the series opener against the Dodgers is to be determined. But Smyly could start then if he returns by Friday.

Left-handerJustin Steele is scheduled to start Saturday, and right-hander Marcus Stroman is set to take the mound Sunday.

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