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Maddon giving Happ time to work through woes

Zobrist bothered by back issues; top prospect Alzolay joins Triple-A Iowa
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

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CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

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"I've talked to [hitting coach] Chili [Davis] a lot about it," Maddon said. "[Happ] feels much better on the right side of the plate than the left side, which is normally not the case. Hopefully, he can maintain that as he works through the left-handed problems he's got. I really like the way this guy is. He'll work through it. I like the plan Chili has set forth for him."

Happ was 4-for-13 (.308) from the left side with six strikeouts, and 6-for-36 (.167) from the right side with 19 K's. His 47.2 strikeout percentage (25 K's in 53 plate appearances) is the highest of any qualified hitter in the Majors this season. Will Maddon pick his spots for Happ?

"Probably a little bit," Maddon said. "My main thought is to talk to Chili every day and Ian to see how they're feeling about things. If I hear from both of them that they feel strongly about what's going on, then I'll start pushing it again."

Last season, Happ batted .253 in 115 games, hitting 24 home runs.

"First of all, I believe in Ian a lot," Maddon said. "He's really a unique young man. He's introspective, he's bright. He has a really high emotional IQ. He understands and accepts and works through moments, as opposed to becoming overly emotional about them."

Video: ATL@CHC: Zobrist races to third for an RBI triple

Ben Zobrist did not start Thursday because of back problems that Maddon thought were similiar to what kept the versatile veteran sidelined most of Spring Training. However, Zobrist said it's a different problem.

"In Spring Training, it was stuck," Zobrist said of his back. "It was stuck when I got in certain spots. It's not stuck at all [now]. In certain spots, it's just a little uncomfortable. That's why they held me out. Today was a 'Hold me out again and tell us how you feel' kind of thing."

Zobrist did work in the batting cages during Thursday's 8-5 win, but wasn't needed to pinch-hit.

"It was a step in the right direction," Zobrist said. "These things, you have to be more cautious when you have a little history."

Zobrist would've been leading off against the Cardinals if he was available, Maddon said. Instead, Maddon went with Albert Almora Jr. against right-hander Luke Weaver and moved Javier Baez into the No. 2 spot for the first time this season.

"I wanted to get some energy at the top," Maddon said of Baez. "He's been doing well. I could have left him at six or seven [in the order]. I'm just shuffling the chairs up a little. There's nothing brilliant about it whatsover. It's just to provide some energy at the top of the batting order."

• After 15 games, the Cubs' starting pitchers ranked 14th in the National League with a 5.31 ERA. That's not what they expected, but Kyle Hendricks said part of the problem has been because the schedule keeps getting interrupted by the weather. The Cubs have had five games postponed.

"This has been weird," Hendricks said. "I've never been through anything like this. Once this weather clears up, we'll be ready to go."

There was plenty of sunshine on Thursday. Hendricks, who will open the Cubs' three-game series in Colorado on Friday, said he's pitched in the cold before.

"In college, I pitched in a game April 5 and it was snowing, and that was the worst I'd seen until now," Hendricks said. "It's out of our control. You just have to get your work in and whenever we can play, we'll play."

• Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay will make his first start of the season on Friday, pitching for Triple-A Iowa. Wednesday's game was postponed, so Luke Farrell will start on Thursday and Alzolay will go Friday.

Alzolay, ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 30 Cubs prospects, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach last season, then went 0-3 with a 3.03 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Tennessee. He was in extended spring camp before joining Iowa.

• The Cubs raised $1.8 million on Wednesday night at the Bricks and Ivy Ball, including $50,000 from the sale of one of the paintings Maddon revealed during Spring Training.

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