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Leading the way: Happ thriving at top of lineup

Cubs OF could get majority of at-bats in leadoff by committee; Hendricks staying on track
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon is still leaning toward a leadoff man by committee, but Ian Happ may be getting the majority of at-bats if he can keep up the pace he's shown in Spring Training.

"I think he has answered that he's capable of doing this and that he wants to do this," Maddon said. "You'll probably see him there a bit. I haven't finalized anything. [We were looking at] a combination, which is what we thought in the beginning, and then he went out and grabbed it and has gotten better."

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon is still leaning toward a leadoff man by committee, but Ian Happ may be getting the majority of at-bats if he can keep up the pace he's shown in Spring Training.

"I think he has answered that he's capable of doing this and that he wants to do this," Maddon said. "You'll probably see him there a bit. I haven't finalized anything. [We were looking at] a combination, which is what we thought in the beginning, and then he went out and grabbed it and has gotten better."

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Happ batted leadoff in eight games last season, and has hit only in that spot this spring -- hitting .333 after going 1-for-4 during Wednesday's 5-1 win over the Rangers. That doesn't mean it's his job full-time. Maddon said they'll still go with the best matchups, and Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward or Ben Zobrist could be in the leadoff spot as well.

"It's almost like not naming a closer when you go closer by committee," Maddon said. "It's leadoff by committee as of right now. Let's try to make our best choice and see where that plays us, and if somebody wants to be the closer, go ahead and be the closer. If somebody wants to be the leadoff hitter, go ahead and be the leaodff hitter."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Hendricks on schedule despite illness
Kyle Hendricks had been scheduled to start in a Minor League game on Tuesday, but he was scratched because of strep throat. Still, Hendricks threw 105 pitches in seven "innings" in what Maddon called a "mega bullpen" on Tuesday.

The right-hander is on track for the regular season and will follow Jon Lester in the Cubs' second game against the Marlins on March 30.

"Give him credit -- he was hurting a little bit," Maddon said. "He got through it, and it keeps him on pace for his next outing, which is Sunday here [in Arizona]."

Video: CWS@CHC: Hendricks strikes out seven in four innings

Injury updates
Reliever Pedro Strop, who has been slowed because of a tender left calf, is scheduled to pitch in his first Cactus League game on Thursday. He threw in a Minor League game on Monday. Whether he's able to go on Opening Day could determine how many openings there are in the bullpen.

"Let's go one moment at a time and try to figure out whether we believe if he's ready to go or not, and utilize his input also," Maddon said.

Camp battle
Maddon projects Willson Contreras catching five to six days a week, but the Cubs have yet to determine who will back him up. Do they go with Victor Caratini, who made his Major League debut last season, or veteran Chris Gimenez?

"That's probably going to be the most difficult decision or conversation," Maddon said. "It has been among all of us. ... This will go down to the wire."

Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey know Gimenez from their time together in Tampa Bay in 2012-13.

Spring Training information

Worth noting
• Wednesday's lineup was very close to what will be the Cubs' Opening Day lineup, although Addison Russell will be at shortstop and Javier Baez at second base. Happ led off and was followed by Kris Bryant -- who hit a three-run homer in the second, his first dinger of the spring -- then Anthony Rizzo, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Zobrist, Heyward and Baez.

Video: CHC@TEX: Bryant skies three-run homer to left-center

Besides Bryant's homer, Schwarber hit a sacrifice fly and solo home run -- his fourth of the spring -- to back Yu Darvish,  who struck out seven over six innings.

Maddon admitted he hasn't been thinking about Opening Day just yet. The Cubs have a night game Thursday, then a day game Friday and split-squad night games on Saturday before closing Cactus League play on Sunday with a day game. They've also been trying to squeeze in work on bunt plays and defensive alignments.

"This is the one time I wish we had one more week and at least four home games," Maddon said. "I would take that."

Video: CHC@TEX: Schwarber leads off 3rd with home run

 • The Mariners claimed left-handed reliever Dario Alvarez off waivers from the Cubs. Alvarez was to be optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and report to Seattle's Minor League camp. Alvarez struck out 11 over 7 1/3 innings with the Cubs this spring.

Up next
On Thursday night at 9:05 CT, Jose Quintana will start against the Giants in Scottsdale. In three starts so far, the lefty has given up two earned runs over 9 1/3 innings while striking out nine. Russell is also expected back at shortstop after getting a day off Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on MLB.TV and can be heard on 670 The Score.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ, Kyle Hendricks