Column: Joc Pederson is filling in fine as the Chicago Cubs leadoff man. His new mustache, alas, is another story.

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It may be a small sample size, but after four seasons without a bona fide leadoff man, the Chicago Cubs might have found an answer to a problem that has vexed them since Dexter Fowler’s departure.

Joc Pederson, whose barely visible mustache has been the talk of the Cubs clubhouse, is hitting .316 with a .391 on-base percentage in 10 games in the top spot after Saturday night’s 2-1 loss in St. Louis, sparking an offense that has done a 180-degree turn since its ice-cold start.

With Miles Mikolas on the mound for the Cardinals on Saturday at Busch Stadium, Pederson was back atop the Cubs lineup, where presumably he can stay against righties as long as he’s hitting.

Whether Pederson’s hot streak lasts as long as the ‘stache remains to be seen.

“My wife hates it,” Pederson admitted Friday. “I don’t have much of a mustache. It was more so a joke, and it still is a joke. I don’t really grow facial hair like that.

“They all want me to dye it jet black. ... It’s all good. It’s all fun and games.”

Pederson, the former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder who signed a one-year, $7 million deal to replace Kyle Schwarber in left field, pummeled Cactus League pitching but hit the off switch when the season opened April 1. He batted .137 in his first 16 games with a .498 OPS, coinciding with an overall slump by most of the the Cubs regulars.

“It kind of hit me by surprise,” Pederson said in April. “Especially the way I was feeling in spring training.”

He joined a long list of Cubs players who got off to abysmal starts after first coming to the North Side, including Moises Alou, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano. Lee was booed by Cubs fans in April 2004 while hearing chants of “Hee-Seop Choi,” the player he was traded for during the offseason. Soriano had no home runs and one RBI in April 2007 after signing an eight-year, $136 million deal and was prematurely labeled a bust.

But Alou, Lee and Soriano returned to being productive hitters after getting acclimated to Chicago’s rough spring weather, and the Cubs believe Pederson will return to his norm as well. Since a stint on the injured list with left wrist tendinitis, he’s hitting .375 in 15 games with a .922 OPS.

The resurgence of Pederson and the call-up of Nico Hoerner have been two of the biggest factors in the offensive revival of a team that’s only three games behind the division-leading Cardinals in spite of its horrific start.

Like Joe Maddon before him, Cubs manager David Ross has had difficulty finding a leadoff replacement for Fowler, who left as a free agent after the 2016 championship season. Some have failed spectacularly, including Schwarber — Maddon’s first choice — who was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after hitting .171 in 64 games to begin the 2017 season.

Anthony Rizzo has been the only fill-in with a successful track record since Fowler’s exit, but despite a career .330 average and .997 OPS leading off, he does it only on an quasi-emergency basis.

Asked in April if he ever envisioned how he might fare leading off for an entire season, Rizzo replied, “I never wonder that, and I hope it never happens.” He called it “psychologically weird” and said he thinks of himself as a bad fit for the role in spite of his success.

Ross made the surprising move to install Kris Bryant as the leadoff man in spring training last year, but Bryant fizzled in the role when the season began in late summer and was replaced by Ian Happ when Bryant went on the IL. Happ got the nod again this spring but also struggled early on and was hitting .133 through the end of April.

After going on the IL following his outfield collision with Hoerner on May 2 in Cincinnati, Happ is batting .355 with four homers in 31 at-bats since his return, mostly batting down in the order.

For now, Ross prefers Pederson leading off against right-handers and Willson Contreras against lefties, though nothing can be written in stone this early. Ross said a “true leadoff hitter” in this era is someone like the Toronto Blue Jays’ George Springer, who has power and can “do damage” in the first inning. Pederson homered on the first pitch he saw in Friday’s 12-3 win over the Cardinals, only his second home run this season.

“I think Joc fits that mode, a guy that can go deep, that can hit the ball to all fields and get on base,” Ross said. “But you’re not really seeing that speed guy at the top in our game.”

While Pederson’s offense is coming into view, his mustache remains an enigma, visible only to those with a close-up view or a camera with a zoom lens. He referred to it as a “semipro” ‘stache compared with reliever Andrew Chafin’s professional model, but after getting on base he pretends to twirl it as though it’s as full as Rollie Fingers’ legendary handlebar mustache.

Asked on Saturday whether Pederson should dye it black as his teammates have suggested, Ross said he’s indifferent while conceding, “It’s a ‘stache, but you can’t really see it.”

“I’m OK with it,” Ross said. “Whatever they want to do. I don’t care what they look like. I care how they play. If the ‘stache is a thing this year, I’m on board with it.”

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