What switch hitter Ian Happ’s right-handed rhythm means for the Cubs

Cubs switch hitter Ian Happ has ignored pressure to pick a side at several points in his baseball career.

“Different sides different years,” he said. “So, I think it’s just about having the confidence in yourself to know that this is the best choice for you.”

For much of Happ’s major-league career, his splits have favored his left-handed swing. But in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Rays at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, Happ logged another momentum-swinging hit right-handed. The Cubs twice pulled within one run of the Rays but didn’t finish the comeback.

From a broader view, Happ’s strong start from the right side could, if his success continues, open up another part of his game this year.

“Just approach-wise, mentality, being able to go in there with a little bit of rhythm and free things up right-handed was huge,” Happ said of what he was able to carry over from the end of last year. “Something I hadn’t really done for the last few years, probably since ’17 right-handed.”

In 2017, Happ’s debut season, he hit for a better average from the right side (.276) than the left (.243). So far this year, he’s gone 6-for-12 swinging right-handed.

“What’s stood out to me so far about Ian is taking the balls to right,” Ross said this week.

Happ attributes those opposite-field base hits to that approach from late last year, “not getting too big and staying through the ball.”

Happ picked up switch hitting when he was 8 years old, spurred on by his older brother, and committed to it full time his freshman year of high school. His swings from each side of the plate, even beyond the obvious difference in leg kick, have always felt different.

“My hands work a little bit better right-handed as far as controlling the barrel,” Happ said in a conversation with the Sun-Times, “but my [bat] path is better lefty to get the ball in the air.”

So, his focus is different on each side. Swinging left-handed, Happ naturally creates a lot of loft, so he thinks about staying on top of the ball. From the right side, he’s trying to stay up the middle and get the ball in the air.

This offseason, Happ said, his work right-handed centered around, “rhythm and flow and feeling.”

He continued: “Even if I’m not getting consistent right handed at bats because of the schedule, still feeling like anytime I get in the box righty, I have that same rhythm and flow regardless of if my last at-bat was two weeks ago.

“I think that’s something in my career that I’ve struggled with right-handed. You could have five at-bats spread out over two weeks and be 0-for-5, but that’s a pretty small sample size. Trying to make adjustments based on that really doesn’t make any sense.”

Similarly, Happ’s 12 at-bats right-handed this season are too few to make any declarations about what his numbers will be at the end of the year. But they’ve made a difference in individual games.

Happ logged the go-ahead RBI right-handed in the Cubs’ 4-2 win against the Rays on Monday.

On Tuesday, Happ started the Cubs’ three-run rally in the fourth inning with a single to left field. Frank Schwindel drove him in with a double, and Patrick Wisdom hit a two-run homer to cut the Rays’ lead to 4-3.

Both teams scored two runs in the seventh inning to carry a one-run game into the ninth. But Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge retired the side in order in the Cubs’ last offensive frame.

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