Cubs get a much-needed boost as Nico Hoerner returns
CINCINNATI — The Cubs are looking for sparks anywhere they can find one right now.
Nico Hoerner’s return could serve as exactly the type of boost this team needs right now.
The young second baseman was activated off the injured list Sunday morning and immediately inserted into the lineup ahead of the series finale with the Reds. The Cubs are looking to halt an 8-game losing streak and Hoerner was slotted into the No. 6 spot in the batting order and inserted at second base.
The 24-year-old was initially placed on the IL with a strained hamstring on May 25, so he has missed nearly six weeks. He was a Gold Glove finalist at second base last year and his high-contact approach is a welcome addition to a lineup that has averaged over 13 strikeouts a game during the current skid.
In 21 games this season, Hoerner has hit .338 with an .837 OPS and has been particularly locked in with runners in scoring position (.438 AVG).
“He just needs to come back and be himself,’ David Ross said. “I don’t think any one person is gonna be that type of savior. I know a lot’s been made of some of the injuries and stuff but we’ve got plenty enough talent and proven to be able to win baseball games.
“We just have to do a better job in a couple areas. Nico’s excited to be back and able to help out. He’s a true baseball player that just likes to be out there and compete.”
Hoerner played in 4 rehab games with Triple-A Iowa last week and took batting practice in Cincinnati Saturday. For the most part, he has traveled with the big-league club throughout his time on the IL as he continued to work his way back.
The biggest difficulty was understanding he couldn’t rush it back, no matter how badly he wanted to be on the field.
“A lot of conversations debating that and figuring out what’s best,” Hoerner said. “All you can do is use the people around you that you trust and have been through similar things from players and staff and make the best choices you can.
“What’s valuable for the team now? What works in the future? Just try and find a happy medium of all that stuff and I feel good where I’m at.”
Hoerner admitted Sunday felt similar to another Opening Day for him after missing nearly six weeks.
“Today won’t exactly feel like a normal game,” he said. “Different games do feel different — that’s real. I’m excited and ready to go.”
The time away also gave Hoerner an added level of appreciation for his status as a professional athlete – especially one that gets to play half his games at Wrigley Field.
“It definitely restores that sense of gratitude when you are playing the game and you are on the field — especially in the Major Leagues — is a really special thing to be able to do,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve taken it for granted much before but more than ever when you’re hurt and you come back, you kinda take a look up at the fans and everyone.
“Especially those first couple games at Wrigley with 100% capacity against the Cardinals — those were special days. Knowing that those are possible in the future is a really exciting thing to picture.”
Hoerner may be back now and the Cubs have a sense of urgency in the standings as the trade deadline approaches but the team will continue to keep the big picture in mind with the 24-year-old.
They will try to ease him in as much as possible to ensure he’s healthy for the second half of the season.
“He’ll play some but also mix in some off-days before the All-Star Break,” Ross said. “It’s an exciting player to have back. He was a big part of our offense when we were going good and hope he can come back and fit right in and continue to contribute like he was before he got hurt.”