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Pirates notebook: Mt. Lebanon grad, Cubs rookie Ian Happ all smiles in return to Pittsburgh

| Friday, June 16, 2017, 7:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs second baseman Ian Happ, a Mt. Lebanon native, signs autographs for fans before a game against the Pirates Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs second baseman Ian Happ, a Mt. Lebanon native, high-fives a teammate after scoring during the first inning against the Pirates Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs second baseman Ian Happ, a Mt. Lebanon native, scores on a wild pitch past Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams during the first inning Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs second baseman Ian Happ, a Mt. Lebanon native, singles during the first inning against the Pirates Friday, June 16, 2017, at PNC Park.

When he was a student at Mt. Lebanon High School, Ian Happ often would buy a $9 ticket and climb to the third deck of PNC Park to watch the Pirates.

“There'd be nobody else within three sections of you,” Happ said. “You could sit up there, bring a bag of sunflower seeds and watch nine innings of baseball. That's a pretty good deal.”

Happ never got on the field, though, until Friday — when he started at second base for the Chicago Cubs.

A first-round pick in 2015, Happ made his big league debut May 13. He hit seven homers in his first 28 games, including a grand slam Tuesday against the New York Mets.

He left tickets for about 20 friends and family Friday and expects to see lots of familiar faces all weekend at PNC Park.

“I have some good friends who have season tickets right above the Pirates dugout,” Happ said with a smile. “They'll be wearing Cubs gear for the first time.”

Happ was born in Cleveland and moved to Pittsburgh around the time he started grade school. Eventually, he stopped following the Indians and began rooting for the Pirates.

“You start to fall in love with PNC (Park), with the skyline and with the city,” Happ said. “I grew up coming to the park and watching … Lastings Milledge and Nyjer Morgan, Brian Giles, Freddy Sanchez. It's pretty cool to be on the field and doing the same thing they were doing.”

On Friday afternoon, as Happ walked from the team hotel Downtown across the Clemente Bridge, he thought back to those long-ago summers.

“It's awesome to be here,” Happ said. “It's awesome to be back in the city. It's awesome to walk across the bridge and see the stadium. Memories of different places I've sat in the stadium, different games I've watched, all the players I've watched come through here. It's very special. I watched a lot of baseball here.”

Catchers everywhere

The Pirates plan to carry three catchers on their active roster through this weekend. Manager Clint Hurdle said keeping Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings around provides insurance in case Francisco Cervelli encounters unexpected trouble after coming off the concussion DL.

The fact Diaz has been hitting well makes it easier to keep him as a bench guy — for now.

“Our goal is to get Francisco through the weekend and see where that takes us,” Hurdle said. “I'm not warm and fuzzy about carrying three catchers. I've said that all along. (Diaz's) bat plays, which helps with him being able to hit off the bench. However, it's still another catcher who plays no other position and really challenges your versatility.”

Chris Stewart tested his hamstring by running the bases Friday afternoon. Stewart was able to make hard stops at second base and also “practiced” his home run trot, including an imaginary low-five as he rounded third.

Santana to get longer looks

Reliever Edgar Santana worked one inning in each of his first two outings after being called up June 10. In his third time out, Santana was used for 11⁄3 innings.

There could be more multi-inning outings ahead for the rookie right-hander.

“It's something we wanted to look at, especially when he throws a nine- or 10-pitch first inning,” Hurdle said.

“He thew 10 outings of multiple innings in Triple-A, as many as three (innings).

“We'd be hard-pressed to carry just a one-inning guy at this time, so we're looking at that option and see what comes of it. We'll see his comfort (level) with it. It's not something we're asking him to do up here that he hasn't done before.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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