CHICAGO — There’s little doubt Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon deserves some headlines after winning his 1,000th game in the dugout, but it’s a player who was on the winning side for the first time in the big leagues who might steal away the spotlight. Rookie Ian Happ (first round, 2015) homered and walked twice — once with the bases loaded — in the Cubs’ 9-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night as he continues a hot start to his career.
“You have to be mentally tough,” Happ said after another strong performance at the plate. “You have to understand if you take it pitch-by-pitch you’ll have a chance at success.”
Happ is in the same position sluggers like Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant were in before him. He has burst onto the scene as that ‘next guy’ and is taking every advantage of his opportunities. Happ is 4-for-10 with a .538 on-base percentage in three games. His home run to left field in the fifth inning on Tuesday was impressive, but his bases-loaded walk one inning later showed his manager even more.
“Didn’t expand the strike zone, took the walk,” Maddon said. “That’s really nice to see out of a young player … Ian looks extremely in the moment and calm.”
It’s the same way people used to describe Schwarber, who happens to be one of the few guys that can relate to Happ’s plight right now. It wasn’t long ago that Schwarber was the hottest thing up from the minors, though now he’s attempting to come out of a cold streak. He knows what Happ’s feeling.
“As long as you can keep seeing the ball like a beach ball it’s great,” Schwarber said. “It’s great when you get up here and all the adrenaline is rushing. We’re glad to have him. He’s sparking us right now and he’s a really good ballplayer. We’re happy to have him up here.”
Schwarber used to be that spark but he’s taken a back seat as he attempts to emerge from a season-long slump. Tuesday was a step in the right direction, as he also homered while earning an opposite-field single later in the game. Schwarber will undoubtedly find his stroke again, but Happ’s doing it right now. His performance so far leads to two questions: Can he keep it up, and will the Cubs keep him in the big leagues?
“He’s already in tomorrow,” Maddon said shortly after Tuesday’s game. “That wasn’t difficult.”
But what about when Jason Heyward returns from the disabled list or Ben Zobrist‘s back is feeling better? The Cubs could always send down Tommy La Stella and/or Jeimer Candelario but staying on the roster isn’t the same as starting. Would Maddon play him over his World Series heroes? It’s a question that will soon need to be addressed, but for now, the calm rookie is just happy to contribute.
“Two walks and two strikeouts today,” Happ said. “Can still get better but for me being disciplined, swinging at strikes … is part of my game, especially in that situation. With Wrigley bumping like that.”
He was referring to the entire stadium being on its feet as he battled to a full count before walking with the bases loaded. It was a veteran at-bat. The fans in center field on Tuesday understand a good thing when they see it.
“A ton of support,” Happ said. “Especially after that home run. I can’t say enough how great these fans are.”
After the win Happ was savvy enough to understand who writes his name on the lineup card. His first win was his manager’s 1,000th. Neither will forget it, and Happ made sure to recognize it.
“He’s the best,” Happ said of Maddon. “He’s been doing this for a while and he’s very good at it. Happy for him.”
The rookie is pretty good as well.