Cubs’ Nico Hoerner ‘excited’ to see how high he can push his ceiling

ST. LOUIS – When Nico Hoerner logged the Cubs’ first home run of the season, manager David Ross burst into the Wrigley Field interview after the game saying, “Who had Nico Hoerner on their first home run pool?”

Hoerner smiled when reminded on Saturday of Ross’ reaction, before the Cubs’ 5-3 loss to the Cardinals. Hoerner’s most recent home run of the season, which he blasted over the left field fence on Friday, brought his season total to a career-high four homers.

“There’s a lot that comes from just the opportunity to play every day,” Hoerner said, “and just accumulate at-bats, face pitchers multiple times. And all those things are very real. … But I think there’s a lot more there still.”

Hoerner is one of the longer tenured players on this roster, which has seen dramatic turnover in the past couple years, so it’s easy to forget how little professional experience he’s had. This season is Hoerner’s first with at least 50 MLB games. And he only debuted in 2019, after the Double-A season.

Now, Hoerner is setting single-season career highs every couple days. On Thursday, he set a new career high in RBI (18). The next day he hit his fourth home run of the year, also adding two more RBI to his season total.

On the defensive side, he’s established himself as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, despite external rumblings over the offseason about whether he could or should be the Cubs’ answer at that position this year.

“The concept of a ceiling is kind of silly in this game,” Hoerner said. “And I don’t know what that is. And I’m excited to see what that is. And that’s just a day-by-day thing. I’ve never set out to be drafted in a certain round, or go to a certain school, or make it to the big-leagues by a certain year. It’s always been day-by-day for me. And I’ve been fortunate how things have turned out, obviously, but that’s going to be my approach moving forward. I think it’s more enjoyable.”

Hoerner, of course, was selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft. He was coming from Stanford. He made it to the big-leagues the next year.

Suzuki to take live BP

Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki (sprained left ring finger) was expected to take live batting practice in Arizona on Saturday, according to the team. Ross said if all goes well, he anticipates Suzuki joining the team in Chicago on Tuesday to be evaluated for next steps.

Progressing to live batting practice is a good sign for a rehab process that’s been “moving pretty fast,” according to Ross, since Suzuki headed to Arizona last week.

Mills gets the nod

The Cubs originally penciled in Matt Swarmer to start in the series finale against the Cardinals. But by the time they got to St. Louis, they’d changed their probable starter Sunday to Alec Mills.

Mills was already stretched out, after throwing 4 1/3 innings in a blowout loss to the Pirates on Monday. It will be his first start of the season, after a back injury in spring training took him out of the competition for a rotation spot.Ross said he plans to try Swarmer out in the bullpen.

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