Cubs

Cubs hope ankle injury doesn't force Jorge Soler onto DL

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Cubs hope ankle injury doesn't force Jorge Soler onto DL

MIAMI — Jorge Soler showed the Cubs he didn’t have to be constantly handled with caution, beating expectations by playing in each of the team’s first 49 games.

But the Cubs had to scratch Soler from Game 50, sending him to get an MRI on Tuesday in South Florida, waiting to see how serious this ankle injury will become.

Soler awkwardly landed on first base while trying to hustle for an infield single during Monday night’s 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins. Manager Joe Maddon couldn’t rule out the idea of putting Soler on the disabled list.

“I don’t know enough yet,” Maddon said at Marlins Park. “I’m still waiting to hear. It could be day-to-day. It could be longer than that. I’m not sure.”

Either way, the Cubs already decided to change up their outfield mix, promoting Matt Sczcur and sending Mike Baxter to Triple-A Iowa.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Jorge Soler jersey right here]

Long-term durability has been a major concern for Soler, who’s dealt with a series of leg injuries that forced the Cubs to carefully manage his schedule in spring training. The organization also made sure to map out days off during his 24-game audition last season.

At the age of 23, this will be uncharted territory for Soler, who estimated a typical season for an amateur player in Cuba would last about 36 games. He had played in 151 games combined across parts of the last three minor-league seasons.

Maddon doesn’t want to shut down Soler, who’s been a productive player (.724 OPS), even if so far he hasn’t lived up to his reputation as a patient, selective hitter (67 strikeouts) with great power (four home runs).

“If it’s going to be relatively short, I don’t think it would be wise to DL him,” Maddon said. “With a guy like him, one or two days at the most might be plenty. He’s actually doing better right now.

“I liked his at-bats. I also liked him tracking down balls in the right-field corner. He’s been playing well. I think his bat’s been getting better. So I’m not looking to get him an extended rest right now.”

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."