PITTSBURGH — Nico Hoerner hasn’t played since starting both games of Friday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals. And with just five games left, he might not play the rest of the season.
“General soreness,” say the Cubs.
Which makes you wonder if a Major Issue is on the way, or even whether a Colonel Of Truth could be found in one press box wag’s question to Cubs manager David Ross before Tuesday’s series opener in Pittsburgh:
Could Hoerner be one of the many players in the game whose workload might have to be managed with a heightened awareness for injury risk?
“I don’t want to label him like that,” Ross said. “That’s a tricky thing. The main thing for me is if you’re going into next season penciling him in for 150 games, that would be a little naive, right?”
Hoerner, the Cubs’ 2018 first-round draft pick, has played only 44 games this season, mostly because of three stints on the injured list for a bruised forearm (collision in the field), a hamstring strain and an oblique strain.
He’s a talented enough middle infielder to finish as a Gold Glove finalist at second last year and earn consideration as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, when healthy, after Javy Báez was traded. He’s also one of only two .300 hitters for the team this year (minimum 150 plate appearances) and has a .382 on-base percentage.
Hoerner’s just 24 with lots of time left to back up all the draft projections as a productive everyday player for a competitive team.
But barring some unforeseen inability to sign a free agent this winter, Hoerner won’t be the Cubs’ regular shortstop next year — with the Cubs already looking at him as a player who might get close to a full season’s of at-bats playing multiple positions, especially with recently acquired Nick Madrigal laying claim to next year’s starting job at second.
Hoerner said his plan this winter is to continue working at both infield spots and center field. He can also play third.
“I feel like there’s a value [in that],” Ross said. “I’m sure that Nico wants to win and wants to have a position. But to maximize the flexibility of the roster and our team, that could be a huge value.”
Ross compared it to what Kris Bryant was able to do the last couple of years in particular, playing all three outfield spots as well as third base with an occasional start at first.
That added value to the Cubs in Hoerner’s case might also include an ability to better manage workload with an eye toward keeping him on the field.
But that’s not a road Ross seems willing to go down at this point.
“Look, with the season he’s gone through, it’s just the radar is high,” said Ross of where Hoerner was physically as the Cubs opened their final road trip of the season.
“It’s just soreness in the areas that he’s been injured,” Ross said. “I think a lot of that [comes into] play [with] his swing type and the kind of finish like [Minnesota’s Byron] Buxton, where he doesn’t stop, with a lot of stress in the core and things with some lower-half soreness as well.”
Ross, who announced Tuesday that Jason Heyward (concussion) and Keegan Thompson (shoulder) would not play the final week, said the Cubs might have a decision on whether to shut down Hoerner by Wednesday’s game.
As for what any of it might say about what comes next for Hoerner and his role with the team, Ross wouldn’t speculate.
“In general my philosophy is the more flexibility you have being able to give some guys rest [the better],” he said, noting a multi-player rotation could come into play for almost every position Hoerner can play.
“And how the roster shapes out in the offseason and what pieces you’re able to get in that capacity,” he said, “it makes a lot of sense to make sure we find the right matchups for everybody to also give guys days of rest.”