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Hoerner on Wrigley: 'It lived up to the hype'

Kimbrel 'feeling better'; Mills impressing in long relief
@MLBastian
September 14, 2019

CHICAGO -- When Nico Hoerner crossed the plate on Friday, the Cubs rookie had a bit of deja vu when he high-fived Kyle Schwarber. It was also Schwarber waiting for him after the shortstop's lone home run with the Major League team during Spring Training. As Hoerner made his way

CHICAGO -- When Nico Hoerner crossed the plate on Friday, the Cubs rookie had a bit of deja vu when he high-fived Kyle Schwarber. It was also Schwarber waiting for him after the shortstop's lone home run with the Major League team during Spring Training.

As Hoerner made his way back to the home dugout at Wrigley Field, he found some family and friends in the stands, adding another layer to a moment he had imagined since his childhood. And when Hoerner returned to his locker after Friday's 17-8 win, the baseball he launched for his first career home run in the first inning was waiting for him.

"It was really kind of lucky where it ended up," Hoerner said with a smile on Saturday morning. "It ended up in the little bushes [in center field], which is kind of a little hidden place that no one could get to. Someone, obviously, knew how to get there and it was in my locker after the game. It kind of had some scratch marks and some mud on it, which was cool. I liked that."

Hoerner has served as a spark for the Cubs since being called up from Double-A on Monday in the wake of setbacks to shortstops Javier Báez (hairline fracture in his left thumb) and Addison Russell (hit in the head by a pitch on Sunday). Baez is out through at least the rest of the regular season, and Russell remains in Major League Baseball's concussion protocol.

Russell's timetable for return is unclear, but Hoerner's play has raised an important question for manager Joe Maddon to answer. If or when Russell is cleared to return, will Maddon stick with Hoerner at shortstop?

"Nico's performance, it cannot be overlooked what he's doing," Maddon said prior to Saturday's game against Pittsburgh. "That was the first pitch he saw yesterday? I mean, come on. 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 at the moment out there. So the offense has been a plus.

"Listen, I mean this sincerely, I have not even given that thought until I know Addison is ready to rock and roll. And once he does [get cleared], 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."

Maddon reiterated that he will wait to think about those scenarios until Russell is able to resume baseball activities and reach a point of being able to take the field again.

"I don't even permit myself to go there, because I don't even know," Maddon said. "I don't even know if he's going to play or not. 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."

Worth noting

• Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel (10-day injured list, right elbow inflammation) was "feeling better" on Friday and played light catch again during Saturday's pregame workout at Wrigley Field. Depending on how Kimbrel feels, the current plan calls for the right-hander to test his arm with a full bullpen session on Sunday.

"We haven't put a finish line on that yet," Maddon said of Kimbrel's return. "Anything's possible, that he could be back sooner or [out for a longer period of time]. Honestly, playing catch and then doing the bullpen [session] tomorrow will give us a lot of direction."

• Maddon heaped praise on right-hander Alec Mills on Saturday morning. The 27-year-old Mills worked three innings to close out Friday's win, helping save the rest of the bullpen some work. In six appearances (two starts) this year for the Cubs, the righty has a 3.70 ERA with 24 strikeouts and seven walks in 24 1/3 innings.

"Millsy does not get enough credit," Maddon said. "I'm telling you, man, this guy can pitch. He's cut from the same cloth as Kyle Hendricks. He knows what he's doing. ... I've been saying it for, like, two years now. I really love watching this guy pitch."

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Nicholas Castellanos' 15 home runs with the Cubs are tied for the most in a player's first 40 games with the franchise in club history. Hank Sauer also had 15 homers after being dealt to the Cubs by the Reds in 1949.

Quotable

"It was amazing. It felt like I had always hoped it would. That's something you think of for a long time. 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 seen before. They agreed." -- Hoerner, on his first game at Wrigley

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.