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Hoerner making the most of opportunities

@RichardJustice
July 30, 2020

Manager David Ross was in the team’s Draft room in 2018 as his bosses decided to make Stanford’s Nico Hoerner the 24th pick in the first round. “You know, they talked about his baseball skills, which I think we see play out,” Ross said. “His baseball IQ is really [high].

Manager David Ross was in the team’s Draft room in 2018 as his bosses decided to make Stanford’s Nico Hoerner the 24th pick in the first round.

“You know, they talked about his baseball skills, which I think we see play out,” Ross said. “His baseball IQ is really [high]. He’s such a well-rounded, great baseball player. And that's what I think we're seeing.”

Ross probably couldn’t have envisioned how things would work out. As Hoerner begins his first full season in the Majors, Ross is settling in as the team's rookie skipper.

So far, so good on both counts. Hoerner entered play on Thursday having hit in all five of his starts, batting .389. As small sample sizes go, the Cubs couldn’t have asked for more.

“Obviously, having the small sample size at the end of last year was a nice thing personally to know I can have success at this level," Hoerner said. “And the things I've always done well still work here.”

Chicago gave him nothing in Spring Training. Veteran Jason Kipnis was signed to compete for the second-base job, and David Bote will get some time at second, too. But the Cubs believed in him from the beginning and fast-tracked him past Triple-A and right to the Major Leagues in his second pro season.

“I've just been very lucky from the time I entered pro ball,” Hoerner said. “It’s the opportunities to succeed that the Cubs have put me in. They put a lot of trust in me. I don't know if other organizations would have done that. So I’m very thankful for the people that have made that happen and just being in the organization at all.”

Hoerner got the happiest of FaceTime calls on Thursday morning when his Stanford teammate, left-hander Kris Bubic, broke the news that he’d be making his Major League debut on Friday, for the Royals.

If things stay on course, Bubic could face the Cubs next week.

“Our baseball lives have been pretty parallel,” Hoerner said. “We have the same agent, played on the same team right after our senior year heading into college. We played together in college, played on the Cape together, and we were both drafted the same year in the first round.

“He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had, and I'm just so happy for him and that the Royals are really giving him a chance.”

Cubs make some moves
The Cubs on Thursday recalled right-hander Colin Rea from the South Bend alternate training site and optioned right-hander Dillon Maples there. Maples allowed two earned runs in two relief outings.

“I talked to [Maples] in the outfield at length [on Wednesday],” Ross said. “I think the main thing for him is to continue to pitch. He’s given up two homers on fastball counts. You want to come in and pound the zone with your best stuff. When he’s throwing that changeup and that breaking ball, he’s at his best.

“I continue to have confidence in him, just as long as he continues to use his repertoire and don't get baited into any traps with just pumping heaters in there. Major League hitters like to jump on the fastball. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw. There’s a lot of guys that can figure some things out later, and he owned it like a man and understood he had to get better.”

Rea, 30, hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2016, with the Marlins, and missed the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts at Triple-A Iowa in 2019, when he was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year.

“We’ll put him in that group that can give us some length out of the bullpen,” Ross said. “He’s a guy we can [use for] multiple innings. He’s a strike-thrower, so you can use him either ahead or behind.”

Worth noting
The Cubs signed Matt Burch, an undrafted free agent, out of Old Dominion. … Cubs hitters have been plunked 11 times in six games. That’s the most in the Majors and three more than the next-closest team (Mets). First baseman Anthony Rizzo leads the way, with five. He has been hit 150 times in his career. He’s the 24th player to have been hit that many times.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.