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Why Cubs are reluctant to place Nico Hoerner on IL, plus more injury musings

1 month agoAndy Martinez

As the Cubs continue to navigate the precarious situation that they’re in with 10 players on the injured list, relief could be on the horizon.

A trio of pitchers on the IL are beginning or nearing a rehab assignment — the last step before activation — and completed a trade on Saturday to add more pitching depth. Oh, and the Cubs could have their Gold Glove-winning middle infield back early next week, too.

Nico Hoerner (left hamstring tightness) was out of the lineup for the fifth straight day, but manager Craig Counsell sounded optimistic that the pair could be ready to go on Tuesday when they open a three-game set against Atlanta.

Hoerner continues to go through a normal pregame routine, but the pain hasn’t fully subsided. The Cubs are hopeful he can return against Atlanta, and that’s partially why they haven’t placed him on the IL. Much of his return will be dependent on how he feels Sunday after Saturday’s activities.

“Hopefully he feels great,” Counsell said Saturday morning. “We’ve got a tough decision for tomorrow, kind of like ready to go but if not, I think logically waiting through the off day, I mean, that could be a path we take here.

“We’re just going on how he feels and how he’s responding, and it truly is day to day.”

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Counsell has been trying to avoid using Hoerner in a pinch-hit situation because that would reset when the Cubs could backdate any IL stint. That’s why seeing how Hoerner feels over the next two days is crucial in determining a comeback.

“I think that decision is like we really got to make sure we’re trending towards like, ‘I’m very confident Tuesday’s gonna happen,’” Counsell said. “Otherwise, you always cost yourself days for 1 pinch-hit at-bat. If we’re very confident in Tuesday, then yes [Hoerner could pinch hit].”

If everything goes to plan, it would mean the return of both Hoerner and Dansby Swanson (right knee sprain). Swanson took live batting practice against lefties Drew Smyly and Jordan Wicks on Friday and went through more baseball activities Saturday pregame.

“Yeah, I think,” Counsell said of a possible return for Swanson on Tuesday. “Yesterday was a good day for Dansby. Doing more of the same today. I would still say heading in a good direction with that, yes.”

Saturday morning, the Cubs traded Richard Lovelady to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league lefty Jeff Belge. Lovelady was designated for assignment earlier this week. Belge, 26, has a 4.20 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 15 innings across 11 games for Double-A Montgomery.

Righty Daniel Palencia (right shoulder strain) is with Iowa and will begin a rehab assignment Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y. Smyly (right hip impingement) and Wicks (left forearm strain) will both throw bullpen sessions before heading out on minor-league rehabs themselves. Counsell admitted Smyly is slightly ahead of Wicks and could head to South Bend on a rehab assignment early next week.

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