Happ returns from scare with 2 HRs

September 6th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Throughout his life playing baseball, has had baseballs bounce up and nick him in the face every once in a while. It happens. That said, the one that struck his right eye on Thursday in Pittsburgh was different.

"It was definitely scary in the moment," Happ said prior to Saturday's doubleheader against the Cardinals. "It was definitely scary when I got up to a knee there and was kind of trying to get my bearings and figure out if I could see."

Happ's vision certainly looked fine during the Cubs' 4-2 loss in the twin-bill opener. He launched an 0-1 fastball from Adam Wainwright off the right-field scoreboard in the first inning, his MLB-leading fourth leadoff home run of 2020, and he added another blast off Wainwright in the fifth, giving the outfielder his seventh career multihomer game and a team-leading 12 on the season.

In his career against Wainwright, Happ has gone 8-for-14 with four home runs. The eight hits and four homers are the most Happ has produced against any pitcher in his MLB career.

"Happer's having a great season for us," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I'm glad the eye's better. It was pretty evident that he can see. Yeah, I don't know what to say. It's fun to watch on a nightly basis -- the power, the at-bats, the ability to take a walk, use all fields. You feel like he's in every at-bat and is going to do damage."

In a 5-1 loss in the nightcap, Happ went 0-for-3, but he did draw a walk. That gave him a .310/.418/.674 slash line with a team-leading 12 homers and 24 RBIs through 39 games played. Happ also has a 184 wRC+ to go along with a 1.093 OPS, putting him in the conversation as a National League MVP contender at the moment.

"I'm just a part of the machine here," Happ said. "I am happy to be out there in center field every day. I'm happy to be hitting leadoff for this team. My goal every day is to get on base and set the stage for Kris [Bryant] and Rizz [Anthony Rizzo] and Javy [Javier Báez]. I just want to do my job here."

Saturday's production provided a sigh of relief after Thursday's scare.

In the fourth inning of the Cubs' game against the Pirates, Happ fouled off a 2-2 pitch from Pittsburgh's JT Brubaker. The baseball hit the dirt and shot back up, striking Happ in the right eye. The Cubs outfielder said he could actually feel the laces contact his eyeball.

With his vision blurry, Happ exited that game and underwent testing in Pittsburgh, where X-rays came back negative for any structural damage. A concussion was also quickly ruled out. Happ then went through a series of tests in Chicago on Friday morning that helped his confidence in being able to return to the field swiftly.

By Saturday, Ross was able to slot Happ back atop the lineup -- setting the table for Bryant, Rizzo and Báez -- and in center field for the Cubs.

"When I woke up this morning," Happ said, "I went through kind of my normal vision training stuff that I do, was able to see clearly and a lot more clearly than I was yesterday, last night. So I felt comfortable with talking to Rossy and being able to be confident that I could be in the lineup."

Needless to say, Happ was thrilled to have that feeling supported immediately through on-field results.

"It felt good. I was seeing the ball well, so it was good just early on to make some good decisions," Happ said after the doubleheader. "That's a big part of my game, feeling like I'm making the right decisions. So in that first game, to be able to do that, it just gave me enough confidence."