Cubs manager David Ross has experimented with a number of different players at the leadoff spot this season.
The mounting injuries this month haven’t helped, but it’s an issue the Cubs have had since Dexter Fowler left town following the 2016 World Series. Players such as Anthony Rizzo, Nico Hoerner and Matt Duffy have all taken trips at the top of the order. Willson Contreras -- typically a middle-of-the-order bat -- has become something of a go-to table-setter for Ross against left-handed starters.
“I don't know what our record is against left-handed pitching this year off the top of my head, but when Willson's led off for us against lefties, I think we've done OK,” Ross said. “So that's probably a little more the direction that I would go and have been going so far.”
Pederson struggled through his first April in Chicago, slashing .137/.262/.235 before he hit the 10-day injured list with left wrist tendinitis. Happ had a similarly slow start to the year, recording a .133/.293/.173 line in April, then sidelined following a May 2 collision in the outfield with Hoerner.
Happ’s problems directly impacted the spot. He came into this season considered the everyday leadoff hitter, but his slow start led Ross to continue to look Contreras’ way against lefties, and Pederson has become the top option against righties since Happ’s injury.
With both Pederson and Happ finding their grooves, the dilemma hasn’t gone away. Ross now has two hitters hitting near or above .400 this month, and their May OPS would rank among the best in baseball, if stretched out across the entire season. The positive news is that figuring out who to put in the leadoff spot has become a good problem for Ross to have.
Well, maybe "problem" isn’t the right word.
“I think it's more of a luxury that I've got two guys that you can basically flip-flop the two spots in the order,” Ross said. “I think it's probably more of a luxury than a problem, as I would say. If they're swinging the bats well, it's a good thing to have.”
Pederson was slotted at the top of the order for Saturday’s matchup against Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas and Happ was in the six-hole, the same spots they were in for Friday’s 12-3 win. With righty Adam Wainwright scheduled to start for St. Louis on Sunday, Pederson will likely set the table once again.
Whether Happ moves back up the order remains to be seen, but Ross is happy with either player leading off. According to Ross, Pederson and Happ are fine hitting wherever they’re needed, too.
“These are baseball players and understand the job at the top is to get on base in front of the big boys, and then when you're behind those guys, it's to drive runs in,” Ross said after Friday's win. “Both of those guys are capable of doing both.”
Adam undergoes left ankle surgery
Right-hander Jason Adam, who has stepped up from the Minor Leagues when the Cubs have needed a callup amid the rash of injuries and pandemic conditions, underwent emergency surgery on his left ankle Friday night.
During batting practice on Friday afternoon with Triple-A Iowa, Adam jumped for a ball and landed hard, suffering what Ross said was an open dislocation of his left ankle. An ambulance was called to take the pitcher to the hospital.
“Thoughts and prayers go to him, and hopefully [he has] a speedy recovery,” Ross said Saturday. “I texted [him], he said it's all going to work out. He's in good spirits, but yeah, we're definitely thinking about him. That was some terrible news to receive yesterday.”
Adam, 29, recorded an 8.22 ERA over nine appearances with Chicago but had not allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings with Iowa this season.