'Nico! Nico!' Road crowd lauds 4-RBI MLB debut

September 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Cubs’ stopgap solution at shortstop just wouldn’t stop Monday night at Petco Park.

Nico Hoerner, an unexpected callup even to himself, made his Major League debut a stylish one by collecting three hits and four RBIs to lead the Cubs to a 10-2 victory over the Padres. Hoerner had the numerous Cubs fans who invaded Petco Park chanting “Nico! Nico! Nico!” during his surprise unveiling.

“That was about as good as it gets right there,” Hoerner said.

The callup was a surprise not because of his talent -- MLB Pipeline ranks Hoerner as the Cubs’ top prospect and the No. 47 prospect in baseball -- but because Hoerner was chilling back home in Oakland after completing the Minor League season last week with Double-A Tennessee. He was preparing to play next week with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.

But Cubs starting shortstop Javier Baez went down with a left thumb fracture on Sept. 1, and next man up Addison Russell was hit by a pitch in the head on Sunday and is in concussion protocol. Even Triple-A Iowa shortstop Dixon Machado is injured.

So Hoerner got the call on Sunday night and jetted down to San Diego, thrust in the middle of the Cubs’ pursuit of the postseason. By the time Monday night ended, he had become only the second Cubs player in history to record three hits and four RBIs in his big league debut, joining Dee Fondy, who did it on April 17, 1951, at Wrigley Field vs. the Reds.

“You could have just put a spotlight on him the entire evening,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He made some really good plays, had some really good at-bats, ran the bases well. None of that really surprised us. That’s what he’s capable of doing.”

Before Hoerner took the field, Maddon praised Hoerner’s “bat-to-ball skills” and noted his self-confidence.

Hoerner made good on Maddon’s assessment in his first Major League plate appearance, poking an 0-2 slider from Cal Quantrill into right field for a single to lead off the second inning.

“He didn’t try to pull it; he didn’t try to do too much with it,” Maddon said. “He’s got some nice skills.”

Two innings later, Hoerner reached on a forceout and came around to score his first run, diving headfirst into home plate after a wild pitch by Quantrill. In the fifth, Hoerner pulled a 1-0 slider from Quantrill down the left-field line and into the corner for a triple and his first two RBIs.

Hoerner, a 22-year-old who was the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, had crossed paths with Quantrill at Stanford in 2016 when he was a freshman and the future Padres right-hander was a junior on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Hoerner texted their common college teammate, Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman, on Monday and got an updated report on Quantrill.

“He said he’s more slider-sinker now,” Hoerner revealed.

Funny thing is, Maddon had told Hoerner not to worry about scouting reports and to just go out and play. Hoerner proved fourth time up that he could hit an unfamiliar pitcher, too. Against left-hander Robbie Erlin in the sixth inning, Hoerner singled up the middle on a 1-2 sinker to drive home two more runs and give the Cubs a 10-2 lead.

That’s when Cubs fans, many clustered behind the visitor’s dugout on the third-base side, broke into their “Nico! Nico! Nico” chant.

“That was probably the most unexpected part of today,” Hoerner said. “On the baseball side of it, I thought it was solid. That part of it, obviously, is otherwordly. That’s not something you get in every organization, regardless of how well you play.”

Hoerner’s debut was not just one of those memorable baseball moments. It buoyed the Cubs right when they needed some good vibes. They broke a three-game losing streak and slightly improved their position in the National League Wild Card chase, increasing their lead for the second spot to two games, over the Brewers. The D-backs are 2 1/2 games back after falling to the Mets on Monday. The Cubs trail the Nationals by 2 1/2 games for the top Wild Card spot and the Cardinals by four games in the NL Central.

“It’s huge,” winning pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of Hoerner’s immediate impact. “It just brings a whole different energy. It lifts the whole ballclub up. We were so fired up for him in the dugout. It’s just awesome to see somebody come up and perform, have a game like that right out of the gate.”

Hendricks allowed two runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings. He not only got plenty of run support, and Hoerner turned in a couple nifty defensive plays behind him.

Hoerner made a nice backhand stop on the first ball hit to him, denying Nick Martini in the first inning. He also retired Wil Myers in the second by ranging far to his left before a full spin to throw to first base.