Two of the most important things to happen for the Cubs at Wrigley Field since they returned home Friday might be the intense simulated outing by Justin Steele on Sunday morning, and the just-as-strong running and field work by Nico Hoerner that played out in the background.
Steele and Hoerner, both working back from hamstring injuries, might be the two most important players on the Cubs injured list — two of the biggest absences during a 1-5 skid that has stretched the Cubs depth to the cracking point.
Hoerner could be ready for a brief minor-league rehab assignment as soon as “a week to 10 days,” manager David Ross said Sunday morning.
Steele’s timeline could be even sooner, barring setback.
Talk about a Hammy Father’s Day for the Cubs on Sunday.
Steele, a rookie left-hander, was a key part of the Cubs’ bullpen resurgence after joining the pen for his April 12 debut — until the hamstring flared May 20.
Hoerner, who has been one of the Cubs best hitters since an April 22 recall, was major part of the Cubs’ offensive rebirth during a 19-8 May — until the injury running to first May 25 in Pittsburgh.
As hard as it is hang an entire lineup’s success or weaknesses on one player, Hoerner’s absence has been glaring during a six-game stretch entering Sunday in which the Cubs had scored just 12 runs — all of them on six solo home runs and three two-run shots.
A lot of that speaks to the quality of pitching they faced against the Mets and a young, talented Marlins team.
But it’s also reminiscent of the lineup’s massive struggles before contact-hitting Hoerner was called up and before the contact-hitting Matt Duffy (also on the IL) started earning more playing time.
“We just have a lot of guys that are down. That’s just part of this season,” Ross said. “It feels like injuries have piled up on us. And there are going to be times when it shows; right now that’s showing up in a lot of different areas for us.”
Ross talked Sunday about the all-or-nothing power trend and the prospects of getting back to the more balanced, offensively-diverse production of May.
“We’d probably have to get Nico Hoerner in the lineup, and probably a Matt Duffy might make a lot of sense in there,” he said.
Duffy’s timeline appeared to get pushed back a few days ago when soreness lingered after an aggressive rehab day.