Cubs ready to roll with Happ as leadoff man

March 25th, 2018

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- made it clear that he wanted the leadoff job and this spring, he showed he's ready. The outfielder will be atop the Cubs' lineup on Opening Day when they face the Marlins on Thursday.
"He made it known to us from the beginning that he wants to do it," manager Joe Maddon said on Sunday. "He came in with a purpose. You look at his body and how well he looks, and how committed he's been to becoming a better outfielder. He came in with a purpose. He's so committed to his craft, but when I talked to him inside, he has a nice perspective on life. I think he's gone about everything properly."
Happ, 23, hit 24 home runs and batted .253 in 115 games last season, playing both the outfield and second base. This spring, he's been focused on center field. The switch-hitter belted his seventh spring home run on Saturday night against the Mariners' .
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"He's taken to it really well, he wants to do it," Maddon said about Happ leading off. "He has the attributes to do it. I don't want him to change, I want him to maintain his strike zone discipline."
That doesn't mean Happ will lead off every game. Maddon does like to mix and match, and Albert Almora Jr. could lead off against a tough left-handed pitcher. also is an option there.
It's just a puzzle that Maddon has to figure out, which he likes to do with his morning coffee.
"They give me so much to think about every day," he said.
Hendricks eyes aggressive fastball
had a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio coming into Sunday's 5-3 win over the Royals in the Cactus League finale. He had not walked a batter over 15 innings in his previous four starts while striking out 21.
But against the Royals, the right-hander walked two and struck out two in four innings.

"Honestly, that was bad," Hendricks said. "The aggressiveness was a little off, especially in the last inning. When I got to two outs, I fell behind a couple guys, 2-0, and that's bad. Just a little bit with the aggressiveness, my fastball wasn't dialed in. There were times I made the adjustment and I got it locked in. I think I have to be more aggressive with the ball out of my hand on my fastball."
His next start will be Friday against the Marlins in the Cubs' second game of the regular season. He's ready.
"I feel really good," Hendricks said. "I feel strong, that's the No. 1 thing. Now, I have to get into the regular season routine and go from there."
Strop on point
looked healthy and his fastball was clocked at 95 mph on Saturday, but the Cubs want the right-hander to get one more appearance before finalizing the bullpen.
"We want to make sure everybody's healthy," Maddon said on Sunday. "[Strop is] who we're waiting on. That will set things up for us. He looks healthy and I think he's fine, and I haven't heard anything negative. We want to play it all the way out. We want to make sure he is good."

Maddon didn't check the radar gun during Strop's efficient inning.
"I always look at their faces and there's no strain," Maddon said. "You talk to him and he smiles easily, and that tells me he's doing pretty good."
If Strop is ready, the Cubs have one opening in the bullpen and four candidates: Eddie Butler, , and . Butler is out of options.
Zobrist settling in at first
• Zobrist spent part of Sunday morning working at first base with infield coach Brian Butterfield and Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey. Zobrist then started there on defense in the Cubs' final Cactus League game against the Royals.
"I know he hasn't been challenged but he's moved well," Maddon said of Zobrist's transition to first base. "I think he's getting more comfortable there. I bet he'd say, 'Man, I wish I would've done this earlier in my career.'"
Actually, that's not the case.
"It was one of my least comfortable positions, I would say, which is why I've been doing some work at it," Zobrist said.
This spring, Maddon asked Zobrist if he would be OK backing up at first.
"I think I can do it, I just need to get some more work and think through it," Zobrist said. "It was nice to have 'Butter' explain some things to me because it's been years since I've done it. Having a fresh perspective go -- 'This is how I would do it' -- has helped me feel like I can know what I'm doing over there instead of just trying to be athletic, which is what I do in every position."
Zobrist still needs to get comfortable with bunt plays and where to position himself regarding relays. When Maddon and Zobrist were together with the Rays, the manager dubbed him as the super utility guy. Zobrist has played first base in the big leagues, but just 23 games out of his total 1,642.
He still needs to keep all of his gloves.
"He's going to play everywhere," Maddon said.
Up next
Watch live on MLB.TV or listen to an exclusive webcast as right-hander will start at at 5:05 p.m. CT on Monday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., while will get his final tuneup for the regular season on Tuesday in the Cubs' final exhibition games. Opening Day is Thursday against the Marlins in Miami.