‘No one expects him to be savior,’ Cubs say of prospect Nico Hoerner’s call to pennant-race duty


SAN DIEGO – When Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner got the call Sunday while sitting at home in Oakland, his first reaction was shock, he said.

His second?

“It wasn’t even like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ “ said Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ scouting and player development executive on the other end of the phone. “He just goes, ‘Let’s do it, man.’ “

Whether Hoerner can make the jump from Class AA – by way of the couch – to the big leagues and have an impact for a team in dire need at shortstop, last year’s first-round draft at least appears at no loss for confidence.

The Cubs need everything they can get from Hoerner, who was in the starting lineup Monday night in San Diego, batting sixth against the Padres – barely 15 months after his last college game for Stanford.

He singled the opposite way to right leading off the second in his first big-league at-bat.

“I think it’s especially unique to get a chance to debut with a team that’s actually trying to win,” said Hoerner, 22, who hit .284 in 70 games for Class AA Tennessee after missing most of the first two months of the season with a wrist injury.

“That’s probably the most exciting part of it,” he said. “And hopefully it should make playing a little bit easier for me, because it makes it less of a selfish situation honestly. You go into it trying to contribute to a win. And if that’s the result you’re going for at the end of the day, it makes it a little easier, I think.”

The aggressive move by the organization comes one day after Addison Russell was hit in the head by a pitch and put into Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol. He was to be examined by the Padres’ team doctor on Monday.

Until Russell is cleared to play, Hoerner is the Cubs’ starting shortstop, manager Joe Maddon said.

Russell’s beaning came one day after the National League’s All-Star starter, Javy Baez, was diagnosed with a fractured thumb.

Baez was examined Monday by a hand specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis and the expectation that he’ll be sidelined the rest of the regular season.

Even the Cubs’ Class AAA shortstop, Dixon Machado – who has big-league experience – finished the minor-league season on the injured list because of a quad injury.

“We needed help up here, and he was the next man up,” said McLeod, who echoed team president Theo Epstein’s sentiments, adding, “No one expects him to be a savior here whatsoever. But knowing him, he’s going to come up here and compete really well. He was scheduled to go to the [Arizona] Fall League this year and make up a lot of at-bats that he needs to make up. For him and for us, we’re going to need him to do that now in the big leagues.”

The Cubs entered the four-game series in San Diego, clinging to a 1½-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the race for the second-wild card berth entering the final 20 games of the season – fighting to qualify for the postseason for a fifth consecutive year.

Second baseman David Bote was the top remaining big-league backup among a handful of bad choices as the Cubs left Milwaukee Sunday night on the heels of three consecutive losses.

The Brewers were just two games behind the Cubs, who trailed the first-place Cardinals by 4½ games in the NL Central.

“The time is urgent right now with where we are in the standings,” McLeod said. “So hopefully he can help us.”

Hoerner, the 24th overall pick in last year’s draft, had a .344 on-base percentage and three homers for Tennessee.

Before suffering the early season wrist injury, he was brief sensation in spring training, going 8-for-17 with six extra-base hits and a walk in 14 appearances as an extra player from the minor-league side of camp.

“I don’t think he’s fazed at all being here,” McLeod said.

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