What will the Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once - or if - Addison Russell is able to return to the field?
Russell is still in concussion protocol and it's unknown when he will resume baseball activities. There are no clear timelines for head injuries and every person responds differently.
He was still showing symptoms this weekend after taking a 94 mph fastball to the face in Milwaukee last Sunday. Russell meets with team doctors each day, but will be relegated to the bench until he is given medical clearance to return.
Even if Russell is able to play again over these next couple days, how could the Cubs possibly take Hoerner out of the lineup right now?
The rookie collected 3 more hits Saturday, including a 3-run homer in the sixth inning:
That now gives him 11 RBI in his first six MLB games.
"Nico's performance cannot be overlooked," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "That [homer] was the first pitch he saw yesterday? I mean, c'mon. And beyond that, the thing I'm really focused on is the defense. He's really done a nice job on defense, which we really need that moment out there. The offense has been a plus.
"I have not given that thought until I know that Addison is ready to rock and roll. And once he does, I know one thing for sure - even if Nico were to start the game, we could upgrade the defense later with Addison in the game, too. So it's one of those things - I don't even permit myself to go there. I don't even know if [Russell is] gonna play or not. I don't know that.
"So in the meantime, Nico: just keep doing what you're doing. He's impressed probably the industry, but more importantly - the clubhouse. The guys have really been impressed by him."
It’s been a nightmare season for Russell. He missed the first month serving out the rest of his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa initially after the suspension and then came up to the big leagues, where he struggled and was unable to carve out consistent playing time despite the Cubs' need for production at second base.
Russell was then demoted to the minors again in late-July after persistent baserunning/mental mistakes. When Javy Baez went down with injury on the last homestand, Russell stepped in to play shortstop (his natural position), but committed a throwing error in three straight games last weekend in Milwaukee.
Saturday marked only the 95th professional game in Hoerner's career, but he has drawn rave reviews from every corner of the Cubs clubhouse, including seasoned veteran Jon Lester tabbing him as a sparkplug.
Less than a week ago, Hoerner was sitting at home in Oakland with his family, thinking his regular season was done and getting ready to play in the Arizona Fall League soon.
Now, he and his family are at Wrigley Field, soaking it all in:
"[My first game at Wrigley] was amazing. It felt like I had always hoped it would," Hoerner said. "Something you think about for a long time and it definitely lived up to the hype. I had hyped it up to my family a lot just from seeing one game here last year. I said it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and they agreed."
After his debut week, it's natural for fans to wonder if Hoerner should be the Cubs' starting shortstop on a playoff roster even if Russell is able to come back healthy. Baez's exact timeline looms as an x-factor here, too.
Who knows how this will all play out over the next two weeks, but the Cubs have to get to October first and right now, Hoerner is clearly the answer to help them do so.
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