CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- With third baseman Kris Bryant sidelined by a nagging wrist injury, outfielder Ian Happ was once again at the top of the Cubs’ lineup for the opener of their doubleheader against the Cardinals on Wednesday.
It will mark the fourth time that Happ leads off in this shortened season. This most recent role and his superb play early on have come after a bumpy ride in 2019, when he didn't make the team out of camp and spent about four months at Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs have been looking for consistency out of the leadoff spot since outfielder Dexter Fowler left in free agency following the championship-winning 2016 season. In spring training, new manager David Ross approached Bryant about the role, and Bryant was enthusiastic in accepting the challenge. Ross’ thought process was to have his best hitters in Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Javier Baez fill the top three spots in the order.
If Bryant keeps struggling and Happ keeps excelling, that could change for good. Bryant is out through at least Friday after receiving an injection in his wrist Tuesday. He’s hitting just .177 with a .271 on-base percentage and a .594 OPS.
Meanwhile, Happ has surged in slashing .313/.439/1.066.
“Ian, wherever I put him, it doesn’t matter,” Ross said after the Cubs’ win against the Cardinals on Tuesday night. “I think he is as locked in with what he is trying to do at the plate and who he is more than I’ve ever seen him.”
Happ worked diligently on his swing approach at Triple-A last season, then showcased his progress with an .898 OPS in 58 after being called back up by the Cubs.
Now, he’s more confident than ever and keeps his focus simple.
"Top to bottom, that is what I think we want to look like," Happ said of the Cubs grinding out at-bats.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.