Nico Hoerner’s Heads-Up Play Highlights Otherwise Dull Weekend
Even though there’s no truth to the idea that a team is allotted a certain number of hits or runs in a given series or [insert time period here], it sure felt as though the Cubs should have saved some of Friday’s runs for the weekend. After trouncing the Brewers with 15 runs on 17 hits to open their third set with their divisional rivals, the Cubs totaled three runs on 12 hits to drop back below .500 as they head to Atlanta.
One of the few bright spots of the last two games was the play of Nico Hoerner, who appears to be forcing his way back into a more permanent role since rejoining the team when Joc Pederson went to the IL. Hoerner, who has had very little professional experience, was optioned to the Cubs’ alternate site to start the season in large part to work on a plate approach that was still only half-baked.
Despite the angry rhetoric surrounding that decision, this wasn’t about service-time manipulation. I won’t go into that further because I’ve already said my piece on it, but suffice to say Hoerner still has things to work on and probably wouldn’t have been able to do that as well in a timeshare at the MLB level. That said, it became painfully obvious that the combination of David Bote and Eric Sogard was going to operate at little more than replacement level.
Through a combined 99 plate appearances, the Bogard hybrid is batting roughly .220 with a .652 OPS and 0.0 fWAR. Neither player is producing at a league-average level offensively, so it’s hard to look at what they bring to the table — contact from Sogard and pop from Bote — as reasons to get much time over Hoerner. It’s never a good thing to have to give someone a job simply because he can’t really do it worse, but here we are.
That said, Hoerner’s play since being recalled is an even better argument for him to remain on the roster than his spring stats. And while I’m talking about his play in the general sense, one play in particular highlighted the extra wrinkle of dynamism he brings to the table.
With the Cubs still clinging to life in what was then a 1-0 ballgame in the 8th inning Sunday, Hoerner ranged back to field a pop-up from Avisaíl García. Upon being alerted by Javy Báez — who knows a little something about not hustling out of the box — that Garcia was not running, Hoerner let the ball fall safely in front of him in order to throw the runner out and create a rundown with Omar Narváez, who had been on first base.
“Javy’s screaming at him, ‘He’s not running! He’s not running!'” David Ross told reporters after the game. “I think it’s great communication between the middle infielders. Awareness.”
The Cubs would eventually get out of the inning and might have done so even without that heads-up play, but it had the feel of what Pat Hughes might call a turning point. Reality had different ideas, though, and Jason Adam proceeded to allow the first six batters to reach in the 9th inning, icing a game the Cubs would have lost anyway.
It’s understandable to want to throw the game out in its entirety, seeing as how another anemic performance at the hands of Brandon Woodruff is a bit difficult to stomach. Just maybe consider trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. Is it possible that any other second baseman could have made the same play with Javy advising him? Sure, though we’ve seen enough from Hoerner to know that his defensive chops are legit.
“He’s such a smart baseball player,” Ross said. “His IQ is extremely high. You love that type of stuff. It’s just the extra, that baseball mentality. And having that and the communication between the middle infielders, that’s one that really makes you smile.”
Look, I still think the idea of getting Hoerner more time in the minors was the right call for his overall development as a hitter in the long term. That isn’t to say he’s incapable of growing and achieving success without that additional seasoning, only that I believe it would help him to get better faster. But since development isn’t linear and situations aren’t static, the Cubs have little choice but to let Hoerner play until he proves he needs to go back down.