Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner ‘hit the ground running’ after IL stint

In Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner’s first at-bat back from the injured list, he hit a clutch RBI single. In his first full game back, he homered. And he’s been on a roll since.

“It’s been nice to hit the ground running,” Hoerner said this week.

Hoerner has been a part of two trends for the Cubs in recent weeks: a wave of injuries and a wave of new energy.

Hoerner missed 12 games with a sprained ankle, which he sustained in a collision with an umpire. But when he returned a week ago, it was in between two series of Cubs call-ups and MLB debuts.

Players like Christopher Morel – who on Wednesday extended his on-base streak to 15 games, a Cubs record to start a career – have electrified the Cubs, who sit at No. 4 in the National League Central, only above the Reds.

Morel and outfielder Nelson Vel?zquez, who Cubs manager David Ross predicted would be a “big part” of the club’s construction of a future championship-caliber team, should be part of the Cubs’ long-term plans. Both debuted this year.

“Debuts are one of the best parts of our game,” Hoerner said. “Everyone who’s played at this level understands how much time and effort and people it takes to get to this point. So, congratulations to all those guys.”

With the excitement surrounding prospects’ potential, however, don’t forget the impact the development of players like Hoerner could have on the direction of the Cubs’ rebuild.

Serving as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop for the first time in his career, Hoerner has garnered praise from everyone from the front office, to the coaching staff, to middle infield mate Andrelton Simmons.

Is he the Cubs’ long-term solution at the position?

“It’s easy to say you can be a shortstop in the big leagues [in the] long term, but you also have to do it; you have to prove it,” Ross said last week. “Sixty games is a lot different than 162.”

The Cubs are giving him the chance to prove it. When Hoerner and Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove shortstop, share the field, Simmons slides over to second base.

“I just want to win,” Simmons said. “And my arm not feeling 100 [percent] makes it easier on me too. I was willing before I signed, and circumstances made the decision a little easier. And I’m OK with it.”

While he was on the IL, Hoerner said his focus was maintaining the momentum he’d felt before the injury.

“I thought I was in a strong place when I got hurt,” he said. “Just things coming together, not one thing in particular but just the whole game, which I’ve always taken pride in.”

When he came back, Hoerner continued to showcase his range and arm strength, even if he planted a little more gingerly on his back foot for a long throw or two early on.

And his offensive game turned heads.

Hoerner entered play Wednesday batting .333 with five RBI since coming back from the IL. That included two three-hit games, most recently hitting three singles against the Brewers in the early game of a doubleheader on Monday, driving in three runs in a 7-6 loss.

Hoerner, who hit .302 last season, has been known as a contact hitter. But he’s hitting the ball harder this year, his average exit velocity jumping from 86.5 to 89.8.

If Hoerner continues like this, he’ll be well on his way to proving his value as an everyday shortstop for years to come.

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