Andrelton Simmons makes Cubs starting lineup debut to open series vs. Pirates

Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons felt a little anxious taking the field in the ninth inning of a close game at Arizona on Sunday.

“As soon as I touch that ball, it’s like, OK, I’m back,” he said of the game-ending double play he started. “Honestly, still to this it takes me that first ball. It’s like, OK, I’ve done this before.’ I don’t know why.”

Simmons has done this plenty before, signing with the Cubs this spring a decade into his major-league career. But the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 3-2 win at Arizona Sunday marked his first regular season game as a Chicago Cub.

On Monday, as the Cubs opened a three-game series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, Simmons was in the starting lineup for the first time.

“A little frustrating,” Simmons said Monday afternoon when asked to describe the past few weeks. “But I’m happy I’m here now. It was pretty exciting yesterday, especially getting in the game and getting a win.”

Simmons began the season on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation, an issue that flared up in spring training. He played only one game in spring training, getting two at-bats as the designated hitter against the Angels.

Simmons said his recovery took longer than he expected, describing his progress slowing as he neared his return.

“In order to feel like I’m good, it just didn’t get over the hump exactly,” Simmons said. “But it keeps getting better and better every day.”

Seeing how the Cubs’ middle infield was faring, however, Simmons also didn’t feel rushed.

“Nico [Hoerner] was doing really good,” Simmons said. “So, I’m like, I’ve got some room to improve. Should I try to jump back in, or do I try to keep getting better, as good as I can so I’m close to my best?”

Last week, Hoerner sprained his ankle in a collision with an umpire in San Diego and landed on the 10-day IL. The day before Hoerner’s injury, second baseman Nick Madrigal went on the IL with a low back strain.

Simmons was on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa at the time. By Sunday he’d joined the big-league team in Arizona. He said Monday that his shoulder felt “pretty good” but not 100 percent.

“He’s one of the better shortstops that’s been around for probably what the past 10, 15 years defensively,” said Cubs manager David Ross, who also played with Simmons in Atlanta at the beginning of the four-time gold glover’s career. “He’s got some hardware. There’s a lot of range up the middle, willing to do whatever we ask of him, good teammate, been doing it a long time, good baseball instincts, baseball IQ’s really high.”

Leadoff shuffle

Several different Cubs have shared the leadoff role this season, with Rafael Ortega shouldering the brunt of the load. But with lefty Dillon Peters on the mound for the Pirates on Monday, Willson Contreras slid into the leadoff spot for the fifth time this season.

“Having [former Cubs manager] Joe Maddon move me around I think helped me a lot,” Contreras said of hitting in all over the top half of the batting order this year. “Now that Rossy is moving me around, it doesn’t bother me. Every at-bat is important, that’s the way that I think of [it].”

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