No position battle: Why Nico Hoerner will be Cubs’ primary shortstop

CINCINNATI – For the first time, Cubs middle infielders Nico Hoerner and Andrelton Simmons are lined up to play side by side, after the club activated Hoerner off the 10-day injured list on Wednesday.

So, for the first time this season, Cubs manager David Ross had to answer the question, who will play shortstop when the two share the field? The 25-year-old who has impressed to start the season, or the four-time Gold Glover?

Ross’ answer: Hoerner.

“I think there’s a real benefit from a guy that’s young and up-and-coming getting as many reps at short for us,” Ross said. “And the versatility of Simmons – I don’t know that there really is a real position in the infield anymore [with defensive shifts].”

The Cubs had room to add Hoerner to the active roster, coming back from a right ankle sprain, after they placed catcher Yan Gomes on the 10-day IL with a left oblique strain. The Cubs had scratched Gomes from the lineup Tuesday with the injury.

“The news we got back is, it’s not as bad as we thought,” Ross said, describing the strain as, “on the milder side.”

Cubs rookie P.J. Higgins started at catcher for the second straight game, with Willson Contreras still managing right hamstring tightness. Contreras was available off the bench Wednesday, a step toward a full return.

The Cubs, even with second baseman Nick Madrigal still on the 10-day IL with a low back strain, have options in the middle infield. On Wednesday against the Reds, Simmons started at short and rookie Christopher Morel played opposite him. Ross said Jonathan Villar will continue to be an option at second base, as well as third.

That flexibility allows the Cubs to keep working in consistent rest days for their middle infielders, prioritizing health.

The Cubs are also are still evaluating their long-term options at shortstop. Simmons, 32, is on one-year deal with the Cubs. But Hoerner has the opportunity to establish himself as the Cubs’ answer at the position.

“I think Nico has proven he can play big-league shortstop pretty consistently already this season,” Ross said. “So, let’s see what happens at the end of the year and assess there. It’s easy to say you can be a shortstop in the big leagues long-term, but you also have to do it, you have to prove it. Sixty games is a lot different than 162.”

One of Hoerner’s biggest promoters already this season has been Simmons, who cited Hoerner’s play as a big reason the veteran didn’t feel rushed coming back from the shoulder injury that put him on the IL to start the season.

What specifically impressed Simmons?

“His jump throws,” Simmons said with a smile. “I’m like, that’s pretty good, that’s pretty nice. It’s always nice to be able to make those plays in the hole for a shortstop.”

Injury update

Cubs lefty Sean Newcomb (left ankle sprain) got through his first rehab game, throwing one inning for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, with no issues. Cubs right-hander Michael Rucker (left turf toe) threw live batting practice on Wednesday.

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