Homer-happy Happ seizing 2nd chance for Cubs

August 7th, 2019

CHICAGO -- It had been two seasons since ’s name was written into the starting lineup as the Cubs’ second baseman. Manager Joe Maddon decided that Wednesday was a good time to see if that was once again a viable option for Chicago.

"The way he's swinging the bat right now," Maddon said before the game, "I'm creatively trying to get him in the lineup and see how it plays."

Happ then launched a grand slam for the Cubs as part of a nine-run outburst across the fourth and fifth innings against the A’s, powering a 10-1 victory at Wrigley Field. The blast backed a strong seven-inning, two-hit effort from and helped the National League Central-leading Cubs wrap up a 5-1 homestand.

In the fourth inning, Happ sent a first-pitch fastball from Oakland’s Homer Bailey deep to left-center to cap off a five-run frame. It was the eighth grand slam of the season for Chicago, marking the most in one season by the franchise since the Cubs launched nine slams during the 1929 campaign.

The Cubs have been waiting all season for someone to seize the second-base job. Happ is the latest player to be given the opportunity.

“It could be a win-win all over the place, if it all works out properly,” Maddon said. “So, we just want to make sure we look at it.”

Ben Zobrist started off as an option at second, but he has been on MLB's restricted list since early May and only recently initiated a comeback via Minor League games. Daniel Descalso was signed over the winter to play some second, but he labored offensively and tried to play through a left ankle issue that has him on the injured list.

Addison Russell and Robel Garcia were each given a chance to take control of the regular role at second. Both are back at Triple-A Iowa. David Bote has bounced between second and third, while experiencing hot and cold streaks at the plate. Utility man Tony Kemp -- acquired from the Astros at the July 31 Trade Deadline -- is also being given a shot.

"There's a certain amount of patience waiting for one or two out of those options to step up," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this week about the production coming out of second base and center field. "It's not too late for someone to step up."

Chicago's acquisition of corner outfielder Nicholas Castellanos caused a ripple effect in the outfield that pushed Jason Heyward into more innings in center field. As a result, Happ's playing time in the outfield has been limited recently to late-inning replacement work. Behind the scenes, Happ has also been working in the infield under the watchful eye of third-base coach Brian Butterfield.

Happ spent a lot of time at second during Spring Training, when he made it known to Maddon that he hoped to be considered for innings at that position. Then, following his season-opening demotion to Triple-A, Happ continued to put in work at the position while playing mostly outfield in games.

"Butter's been working with him a lot, and he's done a lot of work down in Triple-A," Maddon said. "When he came back, he wanted to make sure that I knew he's very capable of doing that. ... This could be very beneficial to us moving down the road."

Happ last started a game at second for the Cubs on Sept. 19, 2017.

“I felt really comfortable there for a long time,” Happ said. “I was just happy to get a chance here to do that and help the team win.”

Entering Wednesday, the Cubs had produced a .230/.316/.367 slash line out of its seven second basemen this season. The group had turned in a .294 wOBA (21st in MLB), .683 OPS (22nd), 79 wRC+ (22nd) and 25.1 strikeout percentage (26th).

Prior to being called up to the Cubs on July 26, Happ had been hitting at a .324 clip with nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (19), plus a 1.059 OPS, in his last 20 games with Triple-A Iowa. Since rejoining Chicago, he's had six walks and six strikeouts in 31 plate appearances, during which he's logged a .320/.452/.600 slash line in a small, yet encouraging, sample size.

"I feel comfortable up there and I just want to keep that rolling," Happ said. "I think a lot of it's just having confidence in yourself. I've kind of been saying that over and over. It's just believing in yourself, believing you can do it. I was really excited to get back and be with these guys again."