Cubs

Looking like he belongs, Ian Happ sparks Cubs in win over Reds

Looking like he belongs, Ian Happ sparks Cubs in win over Reds

Within two years of getting drafted, Ian Happ hit cleanup and started in center field for the defending World Series champs at Wrigley Field. The Cubs didn’t necessarily envision this scenario — adding Happ to a .500-ish team in the middle of May — but there might be no turning back now.

“He’s already in tomorrow,” manager Joe Maddon said late Tuesday night after bringing a glass of Big Smooth red wine into the interview room to celebrate his 1,000th win as a big-league manager. “That wasn’t difficult.”

Happ is making it harder on team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to stick with the original plan of using him as a short-term replacement while multiple Cubs rested and recovered.

Happ helped spark the Cubs during a 9-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, driving a 74-mph Bronson Arroyo pitch into the left-field bleachers for his second home run in three games since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa over the weekend.

“When you call someone up, you always have plans in pencil,” Epstein said. “Nothing’s ever written in ink. He’s feeling great at the plate right now. He tends to be streaky, so when he’s on a hot streak, it gets really hot and it lasts a long time.

“He’s got a great temperament. He seems comfortable up there already. I think spring training really helped him. His defensive instincts have improved tremendously from where he was in college. He looks more comfortable at a number of positions now, and that allows us to find a spot in the lineup for him more consistently, especially when guys are banged up.”

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A patient switch-hitter, Happ also drew two walks against the Reds and showcased his defensive versatility by moving over to left field — ideal qualities for a Maddon player and the front office that selected him out of the University of Cincinnati with the ninth overall pick in 2015.

“For me, being disciplined, swinging at strikes, swinging at pitches I can do damage on is part of the game,” said Happ, who’s gone 4-for-10 with a double, those two homers, four RBI, three runs scored and three walks during this audition. “Especially in that situation, first time being in Wrigley bumping like that, I felt good about the way I handled it. I felt good about the way I saw the baseball.”

The Cubs are starting to get healthy, with Kris Bryant returning to the lineup after getting the weekend off while dealing with an upper respiratory infection and early signs of pneumonia. Jason Heyward (sprained right finger) went through his normal pregame routine and hopes to be activated from the disabled list soon. Jon Jay (back spasms) is feeling better, while Ben Zobrist doesn’t expect his stiff back to develop into a DL situation.

All those issues opened the door for Happ, but Epstein didn’t sound ready to close it yet.

“We’ll just play it by ear, do the appropriate thing for the team and for Ian’s development,” Epstein said. “We weren’t anticipating an extremely long-term stay. But we’re going to read and react based on how he plays and what’s going on with the other guys and their health.”

 

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu know the Cubs season is right around the corner when we catch word of a Darvish bullpen.

Darvish still hasn't even been a member of the Cubs organization for a full calendar year, but almost that entire time has been spent with the focus firmly on his health.

That hasn't changed for the 32-year-old pitcher enjoying his first Cubs Convention amid Winter Storm Harper at the Sheraton Grand Chicago this weekend.

Darvish said he is fully healthy now and his offseason program is progressing along slowly after he underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September.

Darvish was slated to throw from 120 feet for the first time Saturday, planning 20 pitches from that distance. From there, he will have a bullpen on Friday.

"His health is everything, clearly," Theo Epstein said. "I know it's not worth anything at this point of the calendar, but the reports are terrific. He's added a lot of good muscle, he's added a lot of flexibility.

"Most importantly, his arm feels terrific. He's experiencing no discomfort whatsoever when throwing and when testing his arm. He's walking around with a little bit of confidence. I think that reflects how he's feeling about himself physically."

Cubs fans might be sick of hearing this narrative, but a healthy Darvish really can do a quite a bit in changing the team's overall fortunes for 2019. This is a guy who strikes out batters at a higher rate than any other starting pitcher in baseball history and even when he was able to pitch in 2018, he sported an ERA more than a run-and-a-half higher than his previous career mark.

The Cubs know their road to success goes through the starting rotation (even nowadays in the world of extreme bullpenning) and Darvish has emerged as the ultimate X-factor.

An offseason of rest and rehab has Darvish and the Cubs feeling confident with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

"Now, the important part starts," Epstein said. "Just taking that into spring training and into the season and being ready for the battle and getting some really good hitters out and being someone we can lean on in that rotation."

The Cubs had enough concerns about their overall state of the rotation (including Darvish) that they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option despite a serious budget crunch this winter.

But Hamels — Darvish's former teammate with the Rangers — has something most Cubs fans don't: A firsthand look at how dominating Darvish can be when he's healthy.

"I know he wants to do really well," Hamels said. "And he's capable of so much. You've seen bits and pieces when he was with Texas and the Dodgers for a few games — he's really good. He can carry a game; he can carry a month of starts for a team.

"So to be able to put him in between all of us and all of us working together, it's going to be a lights-out rotation. That's what it takes. I know he's ready to do it. When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the game."

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention

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@CUBS

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention

Technology sure is neat.

Friday, Cubs All-Stars Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo were noticably absent from the opening ceremonies of Cubs Convention. As two of the team's premier players, fans surely felt their absences at the annual event.

Thanks to the power of FaceTime, though, both Lester and Rizzo were able to "appear" at the convention on Saturday. Kris Bryant called Rizzo while on stage during a panel, while Lester appeared at a side station. Check it out:

Lester has been golfing in Florida this week (with good friend John Lackey, one might add). Rizzo recently got married, but it is unclear if his absence is honeymoon related or not.

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