The Cubs just can’t seem to avoid the injury bug, as the club announced Wednesday that Nico Hoerner was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain.
After dropping down a bunt in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Pirates, Hoerner stumbled as he crossed first base while sprinting to beat the throw from Pittsburgh reliever Clay Holmes. Hoerner fell to the ground and immediately grabbed his left leg. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, but the injury -- which manager David Ross deemed to be “mild to moderate” -- was enough to land Hoerner on the IL.
Thanks to the flexibility that Kris Bryant provides to the team (he’s played third, first and all three outfield positions this season), Chicago didn’t bring up another infielder to take Hoerner’s place on the active roster. Instead, the Cubs selected the contract of outfielder Rafael Ortega from Triple-A Iowa, and to make room for him on the 40-man roster, they activated reliever Shelby Miller from the 10-day IL and designated him for assignment.
“Just personnel, to be honest with you,” Ross said about the decision not to call up an infielder. “With the flexibility of KB, being able to just grab the best player down there that we felt like could give us the best at-bats and has experience. I think Rafi stood out as I talked to the different guys -- the guys down there and the front office -- [about] who could give us the best at-bat and [they] felt like [he] was swinging the bat pretty well.”
The injuries have piled up over the last month, with 10 players on the IL, including Hoerner. Patrick Wisdom became the 40th player used by the Cubs this season after he made his season debut Tuesday, which is the earliest in a season that Chicago has had to use 40 players in franchise history.
As far as day-to-day health goes, Willson Contreras was back in the starting lineup just days after taking a 99 mph fastball off his left wrist, but Anthony Rizzo was out of the lineup Wednesday as he deals with what Ross called lower back tightness.
The depth of both the main roster and the Minor League clubs will be tested even more by Hoerner’s injury.
“Depth is a funny thing,” Ross said. “Other guys get opportunities and could step up and be great. I think when you have as many guys sidelined [as we do] coming off of last year and the lack of real at-bats that the Minor Leagues had last year, I don't know if there is such a thing as depth right now.”
The timing of the injury isn’t great, either.
Chicago entered Wednesday just one game back of St. Louis in the National League Central, and the Cubs’ 25-22 record had them at a season-best three games over .500. The team also began a stretch of 16 games in 16 days on Tuesday.
More injury news wasn’t what Chicago needed to hear Wednesday, but as the Cubs continue to try to close that gap without an off-day in the next two weeks, Ross said the team doesn’t really have the time to make any injury-related excuses.
“We've still got to perform no matter who's here, and I know that every organization is trying to create as much depth as possible. There's no secret to that,” Ross said. “We were talking depth on the pitching side and how important that was going to be. We had tons of conversations about that, and so I think it's been no different on the position-player side. We just have to continue to rely on the guys that are here and trust in those guys being professional, having professional at-bats and playing to the best of their ability.”