PHILADELPHIA — Just when it looked like things might really be starting to click for Jorge Soler, the Cubs are dealing with another injury, the stops and starts so far defining the Cuban outfielder’s young career.
Soler will get an MRI on his left hamstring on Tuesday, and until the Cubs get those results it’s hard to say which direction they will go from here, whether this is something that can be managed short-term or will heighten the need for another hitter by the trade deadline.
Soler walked off the field with manager Joe Maddon and athletic trainer PJ Mainville during the third inning of Monday’s 6-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Soler — who has injury history with his left and right hamstrings — had just driven a ball into left field and felt something about two steps before first base.
“Some guys are (injury-prone),” Maddon said. “We’ve been taking care of him, and he really does all the right things. ‘Hammies’ — once you do that, it’s kind of a chronic (issue) that normally does follow (you), hopefully not to a severe degree.
“Again, he’s been doing everything properly. Our training staff has (as well). It just happens. Some people are predisposed.”
Maddon has raved about Soler’s effort levels, improved focus and natural talent, hoping the Cubs can still tap into the “superstar” potential he’s shown in flashes, particularly against the St. Louis Cardinals during the playoffs last year (2.341 OPS).
Soler began the day hitting .286 with a .983 OPS in his last 16 games, finding ways to contribute and force his name into the lineup (even if he didn’t immediately grab the job when Kyle Schwarber suffered season-ending knee damage after an outfield collision in early April).
“It’s a little frustrating,” Soler said through coach/interpreter Henry Blanco. “It happened before, and now it’s happening again. I was feeling better at the plate and (everything) was coming around, but hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
Soler is also getting more comfortable in a new position with Jason Heyward installed as the team’s $184 million Gold Glove defender in right field. Soler perfectly timed his leap at the left-field fence in the first inning, robbing Tommy Joseph with a great catch.
“You hate to see it ever happen to anybody,” Heyward said. “But now of all times, when Georgie is coming around and being Georgie, that’s frustrating. It’s a frustrating game. You can’t control that stuff. I know you can take care of your body as much as you want and things like that, but it’s a hustle play.
“It just sucks. We have no excuses. Players get hurt. Teams have injuries. You got to deal with that. We got to do what we can every day to — not replace him — but just not miss a beat. Hate it for him, hate it for us, because he’s been outstanding.
“You see every day he wants to come in and help, knowing he wasn’t going to play every day, getting a curveball thrown at him in spring training (when) we signed ‘Dex’ (Fowler) back and then (trying to make) the most of every opportunity.”
Injuries begin to explain why Soler was limited to only 151 games in the minors between 2012 and 2014. He spent almost two months on the disabled list last year with a sprained left ankle and a strained left oblique.
The Cubs brought in Matt Szczur — who had been a football/baseball star at nearby Villanova University — to pinch-run for Soler and take over in left field. But it’s unclear what their next moves might be if Soler misses an extended period of time, beyond the built-in versatility with players like Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez.
Maddon said former first-round pick Albert Almora should be in the conversation, but the Cubs aren’t in a hurry with a 22-year-old prospect in his first season with Triple-A Iowa. Matt Murton — a part of Lou Piniella’s 2007 playoff team in Chicago — is hitting .324 during his comeback tour from Japan. Even when Soler struggled, he still brought a presence to this lineup that won’t be easily replaced.