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Cubs manager Joe Maddon sees improvements with Ian Happ’s swing

Ian Happ practices his swing form prior to entering the batting cages on Field 2 at the Under Armour Performance Center, the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, AZ. 02-14-2019. | John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Though he hasn’t lived up to the Cubs’ lofty expectations, switch hitter Ian Happ doesn’t feel like he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder.

Why should he?

“I’ve proven a lot in my first two years,” Happ said Saturday.

Over his first two major-league seasons, Happ hit .242/.341/.459 with 36 doubles, five triples, 39 homers and 112 RBI. But he also has struck out 296 times.

But Happ, who has drawn 109 career walks, said looking just at his strikeout rate is misleading.

“You look at the numbers as a whole, they’re pretty good, .800 OPS over my first two seasons, 39 homers, a lot of walks, so I think the .353 on-base percentage was really good last year,” he said. “I hope to build on good.”

Happ said his biggest problem is falling behind in the count too often.

“I got to two strikes 65 percent of the time, which is 10-15 percent over league average, which is quite a bit. I think that had something to do with it,” he said. “I get deep in counts, that’s why I walk a lot. So I don’t want to lose that part of my game. I think it’s more important to get on base than worry about striking out, so I think those, with experience in the league, they’ll come down on their own. Just have to do a better job with two strikes to put the ball in play.”

Looking to improve off last season, Happ focused on making adjustments with his swing in the offseason, and manager Joe Maddon has noticed the changes this spring, especially on his right side. Maddon said Happ’s right-handed swing is “as good as I’ve seen it.”

“I see a flatter, more functional swing left-handed and right-handed,” Maddon said. “I’ve never seen him swing the bat that well.”

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NOTE: Manager Joe Maddon said right-handed reliever Tony Barnette won’t be ready  for Opening Day. Barnette, who hasn’t pitched since March 3, is dealing with shoulder soreness. It’s unclear when he will start a throwing program.

The Barnette news is the latest blow to the bullpen. Closer Brandon Morrow is already expected to be out until May after shoulder surgery this offseason. Pedro Strop (hamstring) and Xavier Cedeno (wrist) are sidelined, too.

On the bright side, Maddon said Strop and Cedeno are progressing. Strop has been moving his arm a lot, and the Cubs plan to get him into a game before the season starts. Cedeno recently began his throwing program.