Ian Happ delivers instant impact as Cubs roll out another top prospect

Ian Happ delivers instant impact as Cubs roll out another top prospect

ST. LOUIS – During spring training, Cubs officials talked up Ian Happ as someone who could help the team this season. May 13 still would have sounded extremely early for his big-league debut. 
But things haven't gone exactly according to plan for the defending World Series champs and Happ might be the spark the Cubs need now. A wave of health issues forced the shorthanded Cubs to promote Happ from Triple-A Iowa and put the elite prospect second in their lineup and in right field at Busch Stadium.
"This is one of those situations where you might wake up tomorrow and not remember what happened," Happ said before Saturday's 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. "You just got to really slow everything down, enjoy it and be in the moment."
There's no chance Happ forgets this day, from his hard slide into second base drawing an interference call – and teeing up state-of-baseball rants from Joe Maddon and Jon Lester – to the Carlos Martinez slider he launched 413 feet over the bullpen in right-center field for a two-run homer.
Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft – looked like more than just a short-term solution while their regulars rest up and recover. As a switch-hitter who can move around the infield and the outfield, Happ profiles like an ideal Maddon player.
The manager delivered this message to Happ: "Enjoy the moment. You deserve to be here. I don't know if it's going to be a week or the whole season. I have no idea. But don't worry about that. Just go play."

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With so many question marks on the roster, the Cubs optioned reliever Felix Pena back to Iowa and waited for medical updates. Reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant is battling a stomach illness. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell is working through a sore right shoulder. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist is feeling a nagging stiffness in his back. Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward is on the disabled list with a sprained finger on his right hand. Back spasms knocked outfielder Jon Jay out of Friday's win over the Cardinals after one inning. 
The scouting-and-player-development machine the Cubs promised to build has now rolled out first-round picks from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts onto the 25-man roster: Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Happ.  
"You just got to go out and play baseball," said Happ, who also struck out and drew a walk against Martinez and should have notched his first hit on a fifth-inning play that was ruled an error on Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter. "I'm here to help this team win and do everything I can.
"That's kind of been the M.O. of the team for the last few years, guys coming up and helping the club."
What had been a surplus of position players could also make Happ a trade chip by the July 31 deadline as the Cubs search for pitching help. Happ certainly marketed himself in the Cactus League, hitting .383 with five homers and a 1.191 OPS and working hard to erase some of the doubts about his defensive fit. 
That sense of momentum carried over to Iowa, even with a detour to the disabled list with a sprained left thumb. Happ put up a .298 average, nine homers, six doubles and 25 RBI through his first 26 games on the Triple-A level.  
"He made an awesome impression on everybody," Zobrist said. "He's got power. He's patient as a hitter. He's a strong kid and he can hit, so I think he's going to help us. I'm excited for him to help us."

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: