Cubs’ Willson Contreras, Nico Hoerner rejoin starting lineup in 20-5 loss to Reds

CINCINNATI – The Cubs lineup against the Reds on Thursday edged closer to full strength, as catcher Willson Contreras and shortstop Nico Hoerner rejoined the starting cast.

For both, their return to action had come the night before, pinch hitting in the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 4-3 loss Thursday. With two runners on, they each made contact. Contreras’ deep line drive to center field was caught, but Hoerner cut the Reds’ lead to one run with an RBI single.

Contreras had missed three games with hamstring tightness, and Hoerner (right ankle sprain) was returning from nearly two weeks on the injured list.

“I was able to be swinging pretty soon afterwards, that wasn’t really a concern on the rehab side,” Hoerner said before Wednesday’s game. “So, should be good on that end. But just going back to day-by-day stuff. It’s not making up for lost time or anything of that mentality. Just joining back in, doing whatever I can and continuing some good energy that we’ve created lately.”

On Thursday, Hoerner and Contreras both hit solo homers.

The Cubs have been navigating a spike of injuries, overlapping with several COVID-19 related IL moves, in recent weeks. They had 13 players on the IL Thursday. Even Hoerner’s activation Wednesday coincided with catcher Yan Gomes going on the 10-day IL with a left oblique strain.

Several players, however, are approaching a return. Cubs second baseman Nick Madrigal (low back strain) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa on Saturday.

Cubs pitchers Alec Mills (right quadriceps strain) and Sean Newcomb (left ankle sprain) are both scheduled to make rehab appearances on Friday. It will be Newcomb’s second rehab outing with Triple-A Iowa and Mills’ second since a setback interrupted his rehab assignment for a month.

The Cubs players who began the season on the 60-day IL – including Mills, who the Cubs transferred from the 10-day IL last week – will become eligible to return in less than two weeks.

Waiting for Kilian

Right-hander Caleb Kilian, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, is not in the conversation to start in either of the Cubs’ doubleheaders next week, manager David Ross said on Thursday.

“It just looks like real big-league stuff, I know he’s having a great season, stuff’s trending up, the velocity is moving up, there’s just a lot of good things to like about him,” Ross said. “… I’m sure we’ll see him sooner rather than later.”

Ross did not elaborate on why he didn’t expect “sooner” to be as soon as next week.

The Cubs will need to add Kilian to the 40-man roster by the end of the year to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

The Cubs are in the middle of a 40-man roster crunch, which is likely part of the equation. In addition to having every spot filled, in order to bring back outfielders Jason Heyward and Michael Hermosillo, who are on the IL without injury designation (usually COVID-19 related), the Cubs will have to clear room on the 40-man roster.

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