Cubs

Cubs: Javier Baez getting back in the swing of things in Triple-A

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Cubs: Javier Baez getting back in the swing of things in Triple-A

Javier Baez is back on a baseball diamond.

The Cubs' enigmatic young hitter made his season debut Thursday night with Triple-A Iowa, going 1-for-6 with a double and three strikeouts.

"I guess it went well," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I didn't hear anything bad.

"I just heard everything was well, he's fine and we'll just keep moving it forward. But nothing spectacular one way or the other."

[RELATED - Why Cubs bet big on Jon Lester (and won’t look back)]

Baez spent some time away from the game with family after his sister, Noely, passed away at the age of 21 on April 8, the day before Iowa's first game.

Baez spent more than a week at the Cubs' complex in Arizona at the end of April, tuning up for game action.

"It's been pretty tough, but I learned to deal with stuff," Baez told the Des Moines Register. "No matter what happens, we've got to keep going."

Baez hit 76 home runs in the minor leagues before earning a promotion to in early August last season. He hit nine homers and drove in 20 runs in 52 games, but also struck out 95 times and batted just .169.

He then hit just .182 with one homer and one RBI in spring training before being sent back down to Triple-A.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Baez was a consensus Top 10 prospect last season and is still just 22 years old. There is more than enough time for him to turn things around and join a Cubs lineup that now has Kris Bryant and Addison Russell packed into it.

And that's exactly what Baez's goal is, according to his interview with the Des Moines Register.

"I'm just trying to make it to the big leagues again as soon as I can," he said.

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 (5 intentional) 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 6 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."