Right Stuff: Happ finding approach, success vs. LHPs


Ian Happ probably could have let his T-shirt do his talking for him, but he decided to answer questions from the media, anyway, after shooting the decisive hit through the left side of the infield late in another Cubs victory Monday night.

“Launch angle is overrated,” it said across the front of the blue T-shirt.

The words were printed by his pals at Obvious shirts. But the message has been all Happ’s since turning the longest, deepest slump of his career into a strong finish to last season that he has carried into this season.

No trendy hitting fads. No nerd seminars.

It’s more about “approach,” about a “mentality” — about seeing the ball (a little longer) and hitting it,

Ten games doesn’t mean much in a major-league season, never mind a career. And one day in April against Shane McClanahan and the Rays means even less.

But Happ knows what he’s doing and knows what he’s seeing. And from the right side, this 10-game start seems to be especially important for the switch-hitter with the streaky tendencies during his five years in the majors.

“Obviously, getting consistent everyday at-bats was big for me at the end of last year and carrying that into this year,” said Happ, who went from platoon player to regular after much of the roster was traded away in July — then went on a tear the final six weeks of the year.

“But just approach-wise, mentality, being able to go in there with a little bit of a rhythm and kind of free things up right-handed was huge, something I hadn’t really done for the last few years, probably since ’17, right-handed. So being able to kind of free that swing up and be able to get it off early in counts [has been big].”

Take it for what it’s worth on April 18 with 11 total plate appearances against left-handers.

But Happ, who has struggled with his right-handed swing far more than lefty during his career, is off to a 5-for-11 start from the right side, with two RBIs and only two strikeouts.

“What’s stood out to me so far about Ian was taking balls to right,” manager David Ross said. “The fact that he’s letting the ball travel a a little bit. … But just overall using the whole field, being ready for the fastball.”

All three of Happ’s at-bats Monday were against lefties, including a line-drive out to right off McLanahan, the Rays’ Opening Day starter, and the single to left off a Jeffrey Springs breaking ball.

Again, it’s April 18. But if Happ’s intent and Ross’ observations hold, it could go a long way toward solving the dramatic ups and downs the former ninth-overall draft pick has experienced since debuting in 2017, especially from the right side.

It's easy to overlook during a 6-4 Cubs start in which Japanese rookie sensation Seiya Suzuki keeps reaching base twice a game and Willson Contreras keeps squaring up extra-base hits in a tone-setting start to his walk year.

But if Happ's start is any indication of what might be to come this year, that could go a long way toward making him a piece of this year’s transitioning lineup that the Cubs want to extend into the core of Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team" -- a big part of how they find their way back to the playoffs with a new group.

“That guy tonight they had was really good,” Ross said, calling McClanahan one of the best the Cubs have seen so far this year.

“I thought Ian’s at-bat on the one he drove to right field was really telling,” the manager said, “and then he got a little bit of a softer thrower that came in, and he tried to stay up the middle, and the breaking ball just sped it up.”

The launch angle on that one, by the way, was allegedly 6 degrees.

So it’s true. Launch angle is overrated.

“Today it was, yeah,” Happ said.

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