If you asked Cubs fans who Jonathan Herrera was at the start of spring training, you'd get a lot of puzzled looks and shoulder shrugs.

Herrera was an unknown when he signed as a minor-league free agent with the Cubs last December, earning a nonroster invite to spring training. He hit .300 in Cactus League play and suddenly found himself on the Opening Day roster as the Cubs hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Three weeks later, Herrera is flying high after a few good games in a row, capped off with the game-winning hit in the 11th inning Friday against the Reds.

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Herrera entered Friday's game in the late innings, taking over at third base as Kris Bryant moved to left field. In his first at-bat in the 11th, Herrera lined a sharp single to right field to bring home Anthony Rizzo in an eventual 7-3 victory.

"You have to prepare yourself for the situation," Herrera said. "I'm here to face those situations and be ready for them.

"I try to do the little things every day, take my swings in the cage before and throughout the game, just in case I get an opportunity in the game and then try to do my best."

It's that mindset that has helped Herrera carve out a utilty role with the Cubs, where he now has four RBI in the last four games, including a two-run triple in Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon.

 

Herrera, 30, signed with the Colorado Rockies as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2002 and appeared in 375 games for the Rockies from 2008-13, making appearances at second base, third base, shortstop and even left field.

After a minor role in Boston last season, Herrera inked a deal with the Cubs and impressed manager Joe Maddon right off the bat.

"During spring training, the thing I really appreciated about him, even when he wasn't playing or he was on the bench, he was always upbeat," Maddon said. "He didn't know his status, he didn't ask about his status. He just kept coming out and doing his job.

"I thought, 'This guy is a real professional.' He has totally exhibited that over the course of the two-three weeks of the season. An ability to play a variety of positions, he's gotten some big hits for us, works good at-bats.

"He's a pro, man. When he's one of the guys on that bench, you feel good about it. Because you know if you put him out there, he's going to be ready."

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Herrera credited Maddon's managing style for putting him in a position to succeed and making him comfortable, even when his name isn't on the lineup card to start a game.

With Addison Russell and Kris Bryant now up in the big leagues and starting every day at second base and third base, respectively, Herrera has been relegated to more of a bench role, but he's content with that, especially while the team is winning.

"I'm very happy to be a part of this really good group we have," Herrera said. "I prepare myself every day for an opportunity to come.

"We're playing really hard games every single day. We're fighting, we're playing 27 outs. Good things happen when you play like that."