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Nico Hoerner will make his long-awaited return to the Cubs this weekend

1 month agoTony Andracki

MILWAUKEE — The last time Nico Hoerner was in the Cubs lineup, Kris Bryant was hitting second and Anthony Rizzo slotted in third.

Hoerner will make his long-awaited return to the big-league lineup Sunday after a troublesome oblique injury. He left the Cubs’ game on July 28 at Wrigley Field and has missed the last seven weeks.

He actually began a rehab stint in late August before feeling “increased tension” in the oblique area in his second at-bat with Class-A South Bend.

Hoerner has spent the last week with Triple-A Iowa, building back up to the big leagues. The Cubs’ schedule next week is conducive to Hoerner’s health, as they’re off Monday and Thursday, allowing the team to ease him back into action.

The Cubs only have 13 games remaining on the schedule but it was important for Hoerner and the organization to get him back on the field as much as possible over the final two weeks.

“It’s a pretty awesome chance to play some good baseball and finish the year on the field, play some shortstop,” Hoerner said Saturday in Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of positives and things to learn in a situation like that, so I’m excited.”

Hoerner has only appeared in 39 MLB games this season in what has been a roller coaster year for the 24-year-old. He began 2021 in the minors but was called up in late-April when Joc Pederson was injured.

He hit the IL shortly after his call-up when he collided with Ian Happ in the outfield in Cincinnati. Then a serious hamstring strain came in late May that forced him out of action for six weeks.

Hoerner is a huge part of the Cubs’ future so it would have been understandable if they opted to shut him down for the remainder of 2021. But as a young player still developing, this time could be important for him.

“If you’re a real competitor and you like your job, you want to play,” David Ross said. “At the end of the day, he’s a baseball player and loves to play baseball. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game.

“It helps us see and evaluate him and still just let him be in an environment that is fun and continue to get good pitching. [It was a] short season last year, not a ton of games this year, injured a lot in the minor leagues. Every game matters. Getting at-bats — all that stuff is healthy.”

Hoerner was drafted by the Cubs in the 1st round (24th overall) in 2018 and made his MLB debut in September 2019 when the team was desperate for shortstop help amid a pennant race.

Between injuries and the shortened season, Hoerner has only recorded 107 games in the big leagues since that debut over two years ago.

The Cubs also need to evaluate where Hoerner fits in the roster puzzle in 2022 and beyond. He’ll get an opportunity for some extended run at shortstop over the final couple weeks this year.

He also has some experience in the outfield and we all know he can play second base, but Nick Madrigal figures to man that position when he’s healthy next season.

“To play short again is really exciting,” Hoerner said. “Being down there in Triple-A and playing the last 4 games at shortstop was a lot of fun. It’s something I’ve done my whole life and I love doing. So definitely excited to do it at this level a little more.”

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