CHICAGO -- While planning for this abbreviated season, Cubs manager David Ross emphasized the importance of playing the hot hand and not operating purely by matchups. Ian Happ is a providing an example of what Ross has preached.
Ross has raved about Happ since Spring Training, but there was still a question over whether the Cubs may employ a pseudo-platoon in center field. On Sunday, the manager made it clear that the everyday job in center belongs to Happ.
"Right now, it's hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup," Ross said. "He's the real deal, in my opinion."
That strong endorsement came in response to a question about Ross giving rookie infielder Nico Hoerner a look in center field on Wednesday against Royals lefty Kris Bubic. That approach also allowed the manager to start the righty-hitting David Bote at second base.
Heading into the season, Albert Almora Jr. looked like a potential platoon partner with Happ. Almora could face lefties, with Happ (a switch-hitter) getting the bulk of the strong-side platoon at-bats against right-handers. Over the first 13 games, Almora has mostly been used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-hitter.
"The times [Happ] has got to get some days off, we'll look at that," Ross said. "We've got Al, who just continues to wow on defense. ... But, right now, the job's Ian Happ's."
In a scrimmage at Wrigley Field on Sunday, Happ had three hits, including a pair of doubles. Ross noted that one of the outfielder's hits came against left-hander Rex Brothers. Happ has shown improvement hitting from the right side dating back to last year, when he had a stint at Triple-A Iowa to get regular at-bats.
So far, Happ has hit .297/.409/.622 with three homers, three doubles and 10 strikeouts compared to seven walks through 44 plate appearances on the young season. He has a 1.110 OPS against righties and an .817 OPS off lefties in the small sample to date.
"I've learned a lot. You learn over the course of your career. You get better as things go," Happ said. "I feel great about where I'm at right now and my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me."
The four-day break (the postponement of three games vs. St. Louis this weekend, combined with Monday's scheduled off-day) allowed the Cubs to shuffle their rotation.
Jon Lester (Tuesday) and Kyle Hendricks (Wednesday) will start in the two-game series in Cleveland, with Yu Darvish (Thursday), Tyler Chatwood (Friday) and Alec Mills (Saturday) slated to take the ball in the first three games of the following four-game set with the Brewers back home.
Sunday scrimmage info
• Closer Craig Kimbrel worked one inning during Sunday's scrimmage, finishing with two strikeouts and one hit allowed in an 11-pitch effort. Ross liked what he saw from Kimbrel, and he felt it was a good environment for the veteran to get work as he sorts through some mechanical issues.
"Definitely trending in the right direction," Ross said. "I thought he got some real good swing-and-misses on fastballs today up in the zone. He looked a little more like the Craig that we've seen flashes of and that he's been most of his career."
• Mills worked five innings in Sunday's scrimmage, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits with three strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander logged 58 pitches. The outing helps break up an 11-day hiatus between starts.
• Colin Rea (one inning, 23 pitches), Duane Underwood Jr. (one inning, 11 pitches), Casey Sadler (one inning, 23 pitches) and Brothers (one inning, 20 pitches) also got work in during Sunday's scrimmage.
Veteran utility man Derek Dietrich asked for and was granted his release on Sunday by the Cubs, allowing him to pursue a Major League opportunity. Dietrich had been training at Chicago's alternate site in South Bend, Ind. Chicago's 60-man pool is down to 59 players.
"In a 60-game season, worrying about statistics would be foolish. I think that that's something that we've done a great job with, and that's why we're winning baseball games, and offensively, really flowing together nicely." -- Happ