Cubs’ David Ross: Ian Happ is the ‘MVP of our group’ to start the season

Cubs manager David Ross had high praise for left fielder Ian Happ’s start to this season.

“The MVP of our group probably would be Ian Happ for me,” he said before the Cubs faced the White Sox on Wednesday.

Happ’s strong start is reflective of adjustments he’s made over the past year.

“From both sides of the plate, obviously right handed, much improved,” Ross said. “The home run off Max Fried, going the other way, multiple hits to the other side early in the season from the right side. And obviously, his continued patience at the plate from the left side and driving runs in, taking his walks. He’s been a real staple to the middle of our lineup and a really big piece for us.”

Happ entered play Wednesday leading qualified Cubs hitters in batting average (.304) and on-base percentage (.424). Seiya Suzuki still held the best slugging percentage (.500).

Happ’s splits have traditionally favored his left-handed swing, but he’s begun this season batting .364 from the right side (22 at-bats) and .277 from the left (47 at-bats).

Happ has also made a number of notable plays in the outfield including a couple diving catches.

“The defense has improved so much, and the way he’s playing outfield for us,” Ross said, “the way he’s moving, the way he’s running the bases.”

A couple weeks into the season, Suzuki led the team in most offensive categories. But as Suzuki’s production has slowed recently – he’d recorded three hits in his last 28 at-bats entering Wednesday – Happ’s has held steady.

Suzuki, of course, is a month into his debut Major League Baseball season, whereas Happ is long past that initial transition period.

“Now you’re seeing the league adjust,” Ross said of Suzuki. “And he’s also in that same boat of adjusting back to pitchers and seeing a lot of these guys for the first and second time again.”

Contreras returns to lineup

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was back at the lineup and behind the plate Wednesday, after taking three games off from catching. He served as the designated hitter on Saturday in Milwaukee.

Ross announced Tuesday that Contreras was available off the bench but had been dealing with a minor undisclosed ailment.

Miley on rehab assignment

Cubs left-hander Wade Miley left Chicago for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa. The veteran is scheduled to pitch on Thursday.

Miley, who the Cubs signed this past winter, began the season on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation. When he returns, Miley will add another veteran presence to the Cubs’ rotation.

Rotation shuffle

The Cubs have adjusted their rotation plans after having reliever Scott Effross start in Drew Smyly’s place Tuesday when they placed Smyly on the bereavement list. The Cubs’ probable starter Friday, in the series opener against the Dodgers, is to be determined. But Smyly could start then if he returns by Friday.

Lefty Justin Steele is scheduled to start Saturday and right-hander Marcus Stroman is set to take the mound Sunday.

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