Cubs

Nico Hoerner leaving great impression on Cubs: 'We believe in him'

Nico Hoerner leaving great impression on Cubs: 'We believe in him'

A little more than two weeks ago, Nico Hoerner was sitting on his couch back in his hometown of Oakland. With Double-A Tennessee’s season over, the 22-year-old was preparing to head down to the Arizona Fall League for the second-straight year.

Now, Hoerner is the Cubs starting shortstop, starting for a Cubs team that’s pushing for a fifth-straight postseason berth while Javier Báez rehabs his fractured left thumb.

Talk about a heck of a month.

“It’s been special to be a part of a team that’s trying to win right now and being around a lot of guys that have played at this level really successfully for a long time,” Hoerner said Sunday. [I’ve] learned a lot.”

When the Cubs called Hoerner up, no one expected him to produce on a Báez-like level. This is meant more as a compliment to Báez than anything, as he brings game-changing elements to the Cubs at the plate, on the bases and defensively.

And yet, considering that Hoerner only has 89 career minor league games to his name, what he’s done in the big leagues is more than impressive. Including his three plate appearances on Sunday, Hoerner holds a .286/.322/.482 slash line, recording hits in 11 of his first 14 games and making plenty of hard contact.

“As a hitter, there’s always things you can work on to be more consistent,” he said. “But overall, I’ve been pretty happy with my ability to be present, compete as best as I can, and I feel like I’ve been pretty consistent with my preparation.”

Hoerner has also started at shortstop in every one of those contests, showing off impressive range and hands while making no errors. It might just be two weeks, but his play has impressed both Joe Maddon and Báez already.

“You cannot have possibly asked for more than you’ve got out of Nico,” Maddon said on Sunday. “And the thing is, he’s gonna keep getting better. This guy is a gym rat when it comes to baseball.

“He loves doing this and he does it really, really well. He’s a solid, really good baseball player and he’s gonna keep getting better. I really believe that.”

“Unbelievable,” Báez said Saturday about Hoerner’s performance thus far. “It’s not easy to just come up and play, even if it’s in September. We believe in him and he’s done a great job for the team and for our pitchers.”

Although Báez’s injury certainly played a factor, the Cubs called up Hoerner because Addison Russell took a pitch off the face on Sept. 8, going into concussion protocol as a result.

With no true shortstops on their roster, Hoerner was the Cubs’ best bet to man the position in the meantime. But while Báez is limited to pinch-hitting and running right now, Russell has been cleared to play.

Even with Russell – a former All-Star shortstop – back in the fold, though, Maddon is having a hard time going away from Hoerner as his everyday shortstop.

“With Addy, we did not know when Addy would be available, and he is right now,” Maddon said. “Addy is available, but I just really can’t walk away from what Nico is doing.”

Báez is attempting to return to the Cubs starting lineup during their upcoming series against the Pirates. This would move Hoerner off of shortstop, though he and the Cubs are confident in his ability to play other positions.

Of the 75 games he played in Double-A this season Hoerner made 17 appearances at second base and 11 in center field.

“I can help in a wide range of ways,” he said. “The need right now has been at shortstop, but when it comes to the future, who knows what will happen. [I’m] down to go anywhere on the field.”

“It could be second, it could be to give somebody a day off in another position,” Maddon said. “He’s adept at a lot of different spots, and that was the original conversation I had when he got here with the front office guys. They said, ‘Listen, he can play everywhere.’”

2020 is still far away, and the Cubs are still in contention for a postseason spot this season. It’s hard not to look ahead, though, especially considering how (in a small sample size) Hoerner is proving he could be a fixture on the Cubs for years to come.

No matter what, though, Hoerner’s career is looking like a bright one.

“His bat to ball skills are so good and he’s always had that,” Maddon said. “I don’t see that as dissipating, I don’t. And the way he processes the day, that shouldn’t be altered either. With good health, he should be fine.”

“I know I can help this team and I can do that in a wide range of ways,” Hoerner said. [I’m going to] continue to develop and give myself the best chance I can.”

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

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USA Today

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

David Haugh, Charlie Roumeliotis and Adam Hoge join Kap on the panel.

0:45 - Nick Foles is officially a Chicago Bear. Over/under 10.5 starts for him next season.

3:36 - The Cubs' Jason Kipnis takes to Instagram to talk about the quality of baseball if it returns this season. Do fans care what the game looks like or do they just want to watch sports no matter what?

6:37 - ESPN's fan vote crowned Michael Jordan as the greatest college basketball player of all-time. He beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kap says MJ is the GOAT but he may not be college hoops' all-time top 5.

8:20 - The guys debate which dunk on Patrick Ewing was the best in Bulls history: Scottie's or Michael's. And they preview the next installment of Bulls Classics- Game 1 of the 1996 East Finals against Shaq and the Magic.

12:08- NBC Sports' national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh joins Kap. Could the NBA resume with teams playing neutral-site games? Tom also explains how the league's social significance will affect its decision when to return and he discusses his favorite era in history.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Dammit, we want answers. Now.

That might be one of the toughest and ugliest truths in our notoriously impatient country during the coronavirus pandemic, at least for many of us with the luxury of good health as we shelter in place.

Especially for those keeping an eye on any signal or clue from the sports world.

Even before this attention-devoid age of iPhones and binge-viewing on demand, nobody was built more for impatience than sports fans who always have demanded the gratification — if not always quite immediate — of the thrills and agonies of definitive outcomes.

Dammit, we want a final score. Now.

Or at least a schedule. 

The uncertainty and moving timelines are enough to make you throw the Kapman’s MyPillow at the TV.

It’s also what makes this moment so precarious, and the natural rush for answers and a return to live sports so potentially costly.

Even within the initial confusion and hand-wringing Tuesday over whether Toronto’s ban on public events through June specifically included professional sports events (it does not), the news that three players for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers tested positive for COVID-19 seemed almost a footnote.

But, of course, that should be the screaming headline on this whole thing. 

The pro leagues in Japan were pointing toward a delayed start to their season later this month and were back to training for it after “flattening the curve” on the coronavirus cases in that country.

Now it’s all in flux again, and nobody knows when they’ll start that season.

We’re far behind Japan in containing the spread of the virus in this country.

And we’re still talking about starting the baseball season in May or June? Or maybe July at the latest and try to play into October, and push the postseason well into November (maybe at warm-weather, neutral sites)? Into the teeth of the next flu season?

And 40,000 fans at the games? Come on. Playing without fans already is being discussed and is a near certainty for any restart that involves the 2020 calendar. 

By Wednesday nobody was surprised when the Cubs’ London series against the Cardinals in June was officially canceled by MLB. 

Should we be surprised if the entire season meets the same end?

Dammit.

Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis, in an Instagram post Tuesday night, expressed respect for the depth and real-life seriousness of the crisis while also suggesting a far less serious concern about injury risk if baseball rushes players back to the field after a long layoff.

“Not to mention if we start back up and someone (asymptomatic or not) tests positive,” he wrote. “Shut it down again? I don’t know how we’re supposed to have that many tests provided! I really do hope things get better for everyone and there’s baseball this year, but these are just some of the worries creeping into my head that make me think otherwise.”

Ask the Hanshin Tigers and the rest of the Central League in Japan what they think about that right now.

And then consider the risk again.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is a cancer survivor who underwent chemotherapy to recover early in his professional career. Does he bear a greater risk than other players if he contracts the virus?

“I don’t think so. I’m at full strength,” Rizzo said. “All my blood work — it’s not like I’m low on any levels. All my lungs and liver and everything functions like it should be functioning, as it should be functioning as a 30-year-old athlete. So I’m not worried about it.”

Maybe he’s right

On the other hand, healthy people in the teens and 20s with no underlying high-risk conditions reportedly have died because of this virus.

And what about players who do have underlying higher risks, such as asthma, diabetes or blood-pressure issues?

Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow has Type 1 diabetes, as does former Cub Sam Fuld, a Phillies analyst and strategist based in the clubhouse.

Managers Joe Maddon (66) of the Angels and Dusty Baker (70) of the Astros are in the high-risk age range, as are many team support and medical staff who work in and around clubhouses in the majors.

“It’s scary,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said during an interview on WMVP 1000 radio the week after MLB shut down spring training camps. “You don’t prepare for stuff like this.”

Players handle flu bugs, nagging injuries, off-the-field pressures, and often play through those, Heyward said. 

“You can’t really fight this one,” he said. “The best thing to do and the best way to fight is be smart and distance yourself from people and be ready to resume when it is time to resume. It goes without saying we hope it happens sooner than later, but more than anything you just want to hope they get it right and careful.”

But we want answers. Now.

Dammit.

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