PHOENIX – Cubs manager David Ross tried out a new batting order on Saturday, with switch hitter Ian Happ reclaiming the leadoff spot for the first time this season.
“Right now, you’re doing anything you can to help the team win,” Happ said.
Ross said the move had a lot to do with Arizona’s bullpen construction, as he anticipated matchups after Diamondbacks starter Zach Davies. With Cubs switch hitter Jeimer Candelario (low back strain) on the IL, batting Happ leadoff let Ross put left-handed hitter Mike Tauchman in the seven-hole. Cody Bellinger hit cleanup, so all three left-handed bats, including Happ, were scattered throughout the lineup.
“It just lengthens our lineup a little bit and leaves less clear pockets for righty-lefty,” Ross said.
Happ has experience batting first, serving as the Cubs’ regular leadoff hitter for much of 2020 and the first month of the 2021 season.
He entered Saturday batting .241, but he had a .357 OBP and a reputation for seeing a lot of pitches, a valuable skill for a leadoff hitter. He entered the game leading the team with 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, No. 13 in MLB.
“The mindset to be able to do it every single day, day in day out, is super impressive,” Happ said of leading off. “For me, I’ve been getting on base a lot this year, I’ve been walking a lot. I try to get on base for the guys behind me and see what happens.”
Happ has batted mostly third in the order this season. But over the past week, he’s hit sixth three times against left-handed starters, and now first.
“I think this gives us the best chance to maximize our run-scoring opportunity,” Ross said, “and he’s on board with that.”
The Cubs put right-hander Michael Fulmer back on the 15-day injured list with what the Cubs called a strained right forearm. The veteran made one appearance after being activated off the IL Monday.
His velocity was down in that outing, and he struggled with command before striking out two straight batters to get out of the ninth inning.
“It’s a tough loss,” Ross said. “He’s somebody who has been really important to our success down there. He closed out that game in Colorado for us, but he wasn’t able to recover as well as he should. In the back end of the season, it’s tough when guys are banged up.”
The Cubs recalled rookie right-hander Daniel Palencia on Saturday to replenish the bullpen.
Closer Adbert Alzolay is also on the 15-day IL with a right forearm strain. He progressed to playing catch on Saturday, after landing on the IL at the beginning of the week.
Arizona Fall League
The Cubs plan to send eight prospects to the Arizona Fall League this year, according to vice president of player development Jared Banner. Those players include outfielders Alexander Canario – who has been with the major-league team for most of September – and Kevin Alcántara; infielder James Triantos; right-handers Nick Hull, Tyler Santana, Chris Kachmar, and Jose Romero; and left-hander Adam Laskey.