Hoerner returns from IL and shows Cubs why he's 'our spark'

May 20th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- There were a series of roster-altering changes behind the scenes for the Cubs on Friday afternoon, but there was also one important return to normalcy.  was off the injured list and his name was slotted back into the leadoff spot.

In the second inning, Hoerner pulled a pitch into the left-field corner and hustled into second with a two-run double, igniting the offense in a much-needed 10-1 romp over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. It was a deep-breath victory for a Chicago team coming off a season-high five-game losing streak and a gut-punch of a defeat in Houston. 

Hoerner helped turn the page.

“Oh man, Nico,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He got that knock there, the double, and it's just like, ‘OK, there's the guy that's our spark.’”

In the wake of the win, classic rap and R&B from the 1990s was blasting through the visitors’ clubhouse. It was a drastic contrast from pregame, when the Cubs completed some necessary transactions that, in turn, led to a few tough conversations.

Reliever -- who emerged as a multi-inning weapon last year -- was sent to Triple-A Iowa to work through command issues. Veteran , who was well-respected and valued in the room despite his declining production, was designated for assignment.

Hoerner learned from reporters that Thompson was on his way to the Minor Leagues.  was also among the players catching up on the front office’s decisions when he arrived at the ballpark to prepare for his outing against the Phillies.

“It was tough,” Stroman said. “When I walked in today, I didn't know what was going on, to be honest with you. It was a lot.”

It felt like a reaction to the recent woes for the North Siders, but Ross wanted to make something clear: “I don't think this is a shake-up.”

Ross explained that the decision with Thompson is because the Cubs need him to get right and return as the weapon they believe he can be in the bullpen. The manager said the move with Hosmer stemmed from needing to put (left knee) on the injured list. Without Bellinger, Chicago wanted to promote a capable center fielder in , who needed to be added to the 40-man roster.

“It's just more of -- there's real need here,” Ross said of the moves. “And these are the levers we're going to have to pull.”

Hoerner was asked if the players in the room were feeling any sense of urgency in light of the wave of moves by the front office following the losing streak.

“If you're at this level and you need a sense of urgency or motivation,” Hoerner said, “it's probably not the best place [for you]. I don't think that's something that we've lacked as a group. As far as mentality or cohesiveness or those things you look for within a clubhouse, I think we've done a really nice job.

“I think that winning heals everything. And I think that, all things considered, this group has been in a great place.”

The Cubs will hope this win is the start of the healing process.

In his first game off the IL due to a mild left hamstring setback, Hoerner churned out three hits, including a pair of doubles, and ended with four RBIs out of the leadoff spot. 

“Having Nico in the lineup is a game changer. Truly,” Stroman said.

, another source of offensive energy and enthusiasm in the clubhouse, launched his sixth home run in his ninth game back with the Cubs. That is the most homers in a Cubs player’s first nine games of a season since Gabby Hartnett (also six homers) in 1925.

Stroman turned the page on a rough outing last time with a quality start, logging six innings and limiting the Phillies to one run. Relievers and covered the final frames. And in the ninth, Burdi struck out Kyle Schwarber with a 100.6 mph fastball, marking the fastest pitch by a Cubs pitcher since Aroldis Chapman reached 101 in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

“Baseball's a game of waves, it really is. It's a bunch of adversity,” Stroman said. “You're going to go through spurts where you lose five in a row, you lose six in a row. That's why we play 162 of them.

“You really have to stay even-keeled through it all. It's hard to do and hard to say, but it's another thing to actually do it. I'm extremely confident in this team.”