SAN DIEGO — Nico Hoerner barely had enough time to soak up the moment and celebrate with family and friends Monday night before getting back to playing in the middle of the diamond — and in the middle of a pennant race — for the Cubs again Tuesday.
For the kid who made the jump from Class AA to the majors on Monday because of an emergency need at shortstop, he might be better off with less time to think about that three-hit, four-RBI debut.
A night in San Diego earned him an immediate, glaring spotlight 2,000 miles away in Chicago and raised the expectations just as quickly — and almost as high as the stakes of each of these remaining 19 games for the Cubs.
Did somebody say “savior”?
Hoerner laughs when reminded that Cubs execs emphasized Monday that he was specifically not expected to be their season’s savior — no matter what the public reaction is to his sudden impact.
“Baseball’s probably the toughest sport to judge one player based on a day, for better or for worse,” said Hoerner, the No. 24 overall pick who became the first player drafted in 2018 to play a major-league game.
“I’ve experienced both sides of that,” he added. “Looking back on [Monday], obviously the results were great, but I was really happy that I was present throughout the whole day, I felt prepared, I was comfortable, enjoyed it, and I feel if I take those things on a daily basis I give myself the best chance to have results like [Monday].”
Hoerner, 22, is the Cubs’ shortstop until Addison Russell is cleared to play again after getting hit in the head by a pitch Sunday in Milwaukee. Russell remained in baseball’s concussion protocol and his status is subject to daily evaluation until he is symptom-free.
“From the reports we have on him, he’s getting better and better every day,” said Scott Boras, Russell’s agent.
Even after Russell returns, Hoerner will get a chance to keep earning playing time at second base and in the outfield, manager Joe Maddon said.
“That’s something we talked about before he even got here,” Maddon said. “We’ll try to make our best call on a nightly basis.”
Hoerner, who has played mostly shortstop as an amateur and professional, played a full season in college at second, and he spent a lot of time this season learning to play outfield, in particular centerfield.
“I’m going to be more comfortable in some places than others, but I also feel confident anywhere on the field,” he said. “If it means being in the lineup, it’s going to be something I’m all in on for sure.”
What else is for sure: He won’t make savior-like promises, except when it comes to effort.
“You can’t always control if the ball falls, but you can control other things,” he said, “and I think if I’m consistent with that, I can have more special days and days that are impactful even when I don’t get a hit: playing good defense, base running and being part of wins. That’s what it’s all about at this point.”
Kimbrel won’t return Thursday
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel (elbow inflammation) threw lightly on the side again Tuesday but appears several days away from a full-intensity bullpen session, assuring he won’t be ready to return from the injured list on his first eligible day Thursday.
“It’s responding well,” said Kimbrel after throwing Tuesday.