PITTSBURGH — It has been just barely more than two years since the Chicago Cubs selected Ian Happ with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati.
Happ didn’t have a certain projected major-league field position — second base or outfield seemed most likely — but he began his pro career and it took off.
This weekend, Happ is not only playing in the major leagues but doing it against his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates — in front of dozens of family members and friends at PNC Park — with seven big league homers on his resume and he’ll look to add to his total Saturday night.
“Awesome,” Happ said of hitting homers off major league pitchers. “There’s no feeling quite like it.”
Happ, 22, didn’t go deep in the series opener Friday but was 2-for-5 with a double and a single and scored a run in a 9-5 comeback win. He started at second and later moved to center field.
Growing up in suburban Mt. Lebanon, Happ said, he bought general admission tickets to watch games at PNC Park, then find an empty section high above the outfield.
Given that Happ is averaging a homer about every four games since he was recalled last month, he could be due in the second game of the series.
“He’s very talented. Incredibly strong,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You look at him. Not this imposing figure, but when he hits the ball it comes off really hot.”
The game will have what could be a marquee pitching matchup, even if the scheduled starters’ numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of how well they have pitched this season.
Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (6-4, 4.68 ERA), the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner and a member of Chicago’s World Series title team last year, will be making his 14th start this season.
He had a streak of five straight starts of at least six innings halted his last time out, when he got a no-decision Sunday in the Cubs’ 7-5 win over the Colorado Rockies. Arrieta cruised through four scoreless innings but ended up allowing four runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings and left with the bases loaded.
In that game, Arrieta had some trouble with a cut on his right thumb he got a week or so earlier.
“It just got to point where it was really sensitive,” he said of the thumb. “The friction between my finger and the ball, every pitch it got to the point where I wasn’t able to execute the way I’d like.”
However, Arrieta is expected to be OK to start Saturday.
Arrieta is 9-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 16 career starts against the Pirates, but has struggled in recent meetings. He posted a 1.46 ERA in his first 12 starts but has pitched to an 8.61 ERA in the last four.
His opponent will be Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova (6-4, 2.83 ERA), who since he was acquired from the New York Yankees during the 2016 season has been a valuable starter.
Like Arrieta, Nova is set to make his 14th start of the season. Nova has won three of his past four decisions and five of his past seven. He has lasted at least six innings in each start and has allowed more than three earned runs just twice.
“I continue to pitch good games. Thank God for that,” Nova said. “Hopefully, I’ll continue to do it.”
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