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How Cubs hope to get crucial member of offense back on track

1 month agoAndy Martinez

Craig Counsell wasn’t breaking out some innovative managerial tactic by sitting Ian Happ the last two days.

“It’s not a new strategy, by any means,” the Cubs manager said. “There’s guys that are just tired and kind of need a physical refresh day and then there’s a struggling player or a player that’s not kind of performing the way he wants to and there’s different reasons that you give guys days off.

“And I think in this case, it was to just sit back and watch and get a little perspective and then regroup and go after it.”

Two pitches into his first game since Monday, Happ showed the reset worked. The Cubs left fielder homered to right field in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh in the series opener at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs offense has struggled a bit of late — they’re 16th in runs in May and 21st in OPS — and Happ’s return to form is crucial to righting the ship. When the Cubs offense was firing to open the season, he was a pivotal piece in that role. Through the first 10 games of the season, Happ had a .933 OPS and was setting the tone as the team’s leadoff hitter.

But entering Thursday, Happ had a .635 OPS, which was why he had the two days off in Atlanta.

“When you’re not playing the way you want to play, you feel it, all of them do,” Counsell said. “They all do. Because they want to do the thing for the team, right? But nothing crazy.”

The Cubs offense on Thursday showed some promise. Seven of their nine starters reached base and created opportunities to score. At the beginning of the season, that’s what was leading to success for the Cubs — 1 through 9 were giving tough at-bats.

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As the Cubs return to health — Dansby Swanson is eligible to return off the IL on Saturday and Nico Hoerner could return Friday after dealing with left hamstring tightness — Happ’s bat will be key.

For Happ, it’ll come down to his adjustment on off-speed pitches. This season, he’s hitting .333 off fastballs with a .500 slugging percentage. That’s a stark contrast compared to other offerings. Against off-speed pitches, Happ is hitting .114 and .103 against breaking ball pitches.

In the 6th inning, Happ hit an 86-mph slider from Jared Jones for a groundout to first. Not the ideal result, but the ball had a 91-mph exit velocity and a .420 expected batting average, per Statcast.

“I hit the fastball pretty well,” Happ said. “The other — slider or changeup stuff, not quite as well. So making that adjustment, seeing a lot more of that. I thought I made good swings on it today without the results but it’s kind of the adjustment as you go.”

The hope is Thursday was the first step in getting back on track.

“Yeah, I mean, just a couple of days there to clear my head,” Happ said. “I think the results sometimes get challenging to deal with on a daily basis and so a couple of days — obviously [we] have a pretty deep outfield — just take a blow and watch a little bit of baseball.”

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