SAN DIEGO – When the Cubs staggered out of Milwaukee Sunday night, the only thing they needed more than a shortstop was a win.
That’s about the time Nico Hoerner got off his couch at his family’s house in Oakland and started packing.
And about 30 hours later, the Cubs had both – Hoerner delivering one of most eye-popping debuts in Cubs history in a 10-2 victory over the Padres that the reeling team desperately needed.
Making the jump from Class AA to the majors after the Cubs lost both their shortstops in a matter of days, Hoerner delivered hits to all three fields, drove in four runs and was responsible for five of the Cubs’ first nine outs defensively at short in the opener of a four-game series.
“None of that surprised any of us,” manager Joe Maddon said after the big game helped snap a three-game skid.
None of it?
“What you saw tonight was what I saw in spring training,” Maddon said of the first impressions of the Cubs’ 2018 first-round draft pick – who raked in 14 spring games as an extra player from the minor-league side.
“I didn’t know I would get three hits today. You can’t expect a result like that every time,” said Hoerner, 22, who said the first defensive play in the first inning helped settle him in. “But I felt normal out there. There’s things I can get better at and things I did well today. I feel I’m in a good place to definitely help the team moving forward.”
Hoerner on big debut Monday night for Cubs: pic.twitter.com/dDaPog6SCC— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) September 10, 2019
The Cubs still had no status update on Sunday’s starting shortstop, Addison Russell, who is in baseball’s concussion protocol after being hit in the head by a pitch Sunday. He was examined by the Padres team doctor Monday.
The only thing certain about Russell’s status is that he will not start Tuesday, Maddon said.
Hoerner will be back at short, “and we’ll see what he can do [Tuesday],” Maddon said.
“He showed his composure, showed maturity for his age,” veteran second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “I don’t know if he could have asked for a better night. I’m really happy for him.
“And this was a very important game for us today, after the last few tough days, and everybody was ready to play and ready to get out there. But to see his name in the lineup and then have him show up and just kind of keep his composure and step right in line and do his job really well was definitely a breath of fresh air with where we’re at right now.”
With 19 games left this season, the Cubs closed to four games back of the first-place Cardinals, who were idle, in the National League Central.
Perhaps more significantly, they kept the Brewers two games back in the chase for the second wild-card spot – and extended their lead over Arizona in that pursuit to 2½ games.
Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks (10-9) retired nine of the first 10 he faced, never trailed and earned his first victory on the road since July 31 against the Cardinals.
An error by Zobrist in the fourth inning might have cost him a chance at a scoreless start and almost certainly cost him enough pitches to prevent him from pitching at least six innings, Maddon said.
Another error, by third baseman David Bote, put a second runner on base with two out in the sixth and ended Hendricks’ night at 94 pitches.
Hendricks escaped serious injury in the fifth when he was struck in the side of the right leg by a Manny Machado line drive that went for an infield single.
After one warmup throw, he stayed in the game and said afterward he was fine.
Hoerner, who became the first member of the 2018 draft class to debut, had more than 25 friends and family in attendance.
As composed as he may have seemed, not everything was routine baseball for him even after he settled in.
When he tripled home two runs in the fifth, a huge contingent of Cubs fans at Petco Park started chanting his first name, and when he added a two-run single the chants grew louder.
“OK, that was probably the most unexpected part of the day,” said Hoerner, who couldn’t be sure if some of his friends might have started the chant before it grew across an entire side of the stadium.
“That part of it was just otherworldly,” he said. “That’s not something you get in every organization, regardless of how well you play. I’m very grateful for that. It’s about as good as it gets.”