Nick Madrigal visits Wrigley Field for first time as a CubJared Wyllyson September 11, 2021 at 11:17 pm

Second baseman Nick Madrigal followed this year’s trade deadline proceedings the same way most baseball fans do: watching the scroll on his TV. Except, unlike fans, he was on the lookout for his name.

On July 30, Madrigal was at the White Sox’ complex in Glendale, Arizona, recovering from surgery to his right hamstring. That afternoon, he was sitting on the couch with his girlfriend watching the trade updates on TV.

A few minutes before news that he had been traded to the other side of town came up on the screen, Madrigal got a phone call from Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

Not long after that, Madrigal got a text from his friend Nico Hoerner: “If the rumors are true, welcome!”

Madrigal and Hoerner grew up in California playing against each other at nearly every level, from high school to travel ball to college, and a friendship formed between them.

“He was always one of the best players growing up,” Madrigal said. “He was the bigger kid, he threw hard on the mound.”

As Madrigal moves forward in his rehab — he said he’s expecting to be back to full baseball activities by November and ready for spring training in 2022 — he and Hoerner will finally be teammates.

“We have similar styles of play, and I think we complement each other really well,” Madrigal said.

Interim manager Andy Green is looking forward to the high-contact, low-strikeout approach that both players will bring to the lineup next season, especially Madrigal, who earned the nickname “Nicky Two Strikes” on the south side for his ability to put the ball in play behind in the count or not.

“He doesn’t punch out in a world where everybody and their brother punches out all the time,” Green said. “Having that skill set in the lineup, especially with Nico in there as well, that changes our offensive dynamic quite a bit. Couple guys who put balls in play, and the game is starved for those types of hitters right now.

“He’s clearly really good at getting two-strike hits. In a world where most people hit about .150 with two strikes, he’s way beyond that. The nickname’s well earned.”

Madrigal knows the balance he and Hoerner can bring to the Cubs lineup. In 324 plate appearances across 2020 and 2021, Madrigal has a 7.4% strikeout rate, and Hoerner’s is 15.1% this season. The league average is around 24%, and the Cubs were sitting at 26.9% entering Saturday’s game.

“You need power guys, but you also need guys that get on base for when the power guys aren’t hitting every game,” he said. “In a lineup you need someone who gets on base and puts the ball in play.”

The injury to his right hamstring that required season-ending surgery on June 15 had been a lingering one, Madrigal said. He spent a few weeks still playing despite it not feeling right because Madrigal is not one to take himself out of a lineup. But in hindsight, Madrigal believes he would have been better off in the long term by taking a few days off back in late May or early June.

“Big picture, I probably learned a couple things from that,” Madrigal said.

Madrigal is spending the weekend series in Chicago and getting his first taste of Wrigley Field with fans in the stands. When he came as a visiting player with the Sox last season, the seats were empty.

After Sunday’s game, Madrigal will fly back to Arizona to continue rehabbing. There was talk of staying with the team for the last few weeks of the season, but Madrigal is focused on being ready in 2022.

“We have so much time,” Madrigal said. “I could be back before then, but there’s really no rush. The ultimate goal is to be as strong and as ready as possible in spring training.”

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