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Maddon hopes Schwarber finds form in 7-hole

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon needed to find a way to get Kyle Schwarber back on track and revive his "Rizzo sandwich," so he made a few tweaks to the lineup Friday.

Last year, the Cubs' main 2-3-4 combination was Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, which Maddon dubbed his "Rizzo sandwich." Zobrist had taken over the leadoff spot since May 20 because of Schwarber's struggles, but on Friday, Maddon dropped Schwarber to seventh for the third time in his career, inserted rookie Ian Happ at leadoff and put Zobrist back in his protective slot behind Rizzo at No. 4.

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CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon needed to find a way to get Kyle Schwarber back on track and revive his "Rizzo sandwich," so he made a few tweaks to the lineup Friday.

Last year, the Cubs' main 2-3-4 combination was Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, which Maddon dubbed his "Rizzo sandwich." Zobrist had taken over the leadoff spot since May 20 because of Schwarber's struggles, but on Friday, Maddon dropped Schwarber to seventh for the third time in his career, inserted rookie Ian Happ at leadoff and put Zobrist back in his protective slot behind Rizzo at No. 4.

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"'Zo' has done a great job leading off," Maddon said Friday. "But I also believe he definitely has to be behind Rizzo for us to be successful offensively. Who's going to hit leadoff? It could've been Happ or Jason Heyward. I think Jason has settled in nicely. I didn't want to mess with that. 'Schwarbs' is getting better."

Schwarber was projected as the Cubs' leadoff man this season, a somewhat unconventional pick, and he's scuffled, batting .190 in the No. 1 spot. Hitting coach John Mallee spent Thursday's off-day at Wrigley Field going over video, which also contributed to the switch.

It's part of what Maddon called the "one-less-at-bat-per-game theory." If Schwarber gets one less at-bat, and does well, he'll have the opportunity to boost his overall batting average, which was .165 coming into Friday's game.

"More than anything, what's impacted is your confidence," Maddon said of the early struggles. "You haven't forgotten how to hit, you don't have to make a lot of physical adjustments -- but when you're going poorly, you start doubting yourself. That's human nature -- we all do that."

It's key for Maddon and the coaches to show they have confidence in the young players.

"We're trying to help some of our young guys re-establish their confidence," Maddon said. "How do you do that? By being there for them all the time. There's a difference between performance not being good or people not caring. The effort is there, the caring is there; we're just not performing well."

The past two seasons, the Cubs have relied on Dexter Fowler as the leadoff man. On Friday, Fowler received his 2016 World Series ring, but he did so in a Cardinals uniform after signing a five-year deal with St. Louis.

"It's always nice to have one, I'm not going to deny that," Maddon said. "It's like it's always nice to have a closer -- it's nice to have that table-setter. We'll work through that. I'm not hyper concerned about it, but we'll settle in."

Worth noting

• Happ will be the Cubs' sixth leadoff man this year, joining Schwarber, Zobrist, Jon Jay, Javier Baez and Matt Szczur.

• The Cubs did not get off to the same hot start they did last season, and they began the day three games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central. How much do they miss Fowler and David Ross?

"It's hard to quantify what they did," Maddon said. "The reality is, they're not here. This is when other guys have to ascend -- whether it's leadership within the group or younger players growing up. That's how this game works.

"I think we have the definite leadership capabilities," Maddon said. "If we had to struggle at all, I'd prefer it to be now than at the end of the year. Geography has helped us this year where the NL Central, nobody is running away from us. That's the part you can hold onto a little bit. Fundamentally, we're OK. We just haven't hit."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs