Whom does Nico Hoerner think he is, anyway? The next Willson Contreras?
Fans should remember the first at-bat of Contreras’ major-league career. It came in 2016 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, and the catcher rose to the moment in a huge way by blasting a two-run home run to center field on the first pitch he saw. The Cubs were on their way to the World Series.
Fast-forward to Friday, with the Cubs hammering the Pirates 17-8 in the opener of a crucial 10-game stretch at Wrigley. On the first pitch of Hoerner’s first at-bat in a ballpark where he hopes to distinguish himself over a long career, the 22-year-old shortstop hit a two-run rocket into the shrubs beyond the basket in center.
No, it wasn’t Hoerner’s big-league debut. He started all four games this week in San Diego, an emergency call-up straight from Class AA Tennessee. With Javy Baez out with a fractured left thumb, Addison Russell in the concussion protocol and Class AAA shortstop Dixon Machado also injured, Hoerner instantly became a key figure in the Cubs’ drive for a playoff berth.
And Hoerner has made an enormous first impression, becoming the first Cubs player to drive in eight runs in his first five games since Andy Pafko in 1943.
‘‘It’s not really what I expected I’d be doing this week, but it’s the best week of my life,’’ he said.
He has thrilled family members who have flocked to see him face the Padres and Pirates. He has fired up his team, too. Winning pitcher Jon Lester called Hoerner a ‘‘spark plug’’ and remarked on the positive effects of his ‘‘naiveness.’’
‘‘Not knowing what to expect, just going and playing baseball,’’ Lester said. ‘‘Sometimes we all need to get back to that.’’
This and that
First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s grand slam in the third inning, which put the Cubs in front 10-4, was the fifth of his career — all at Wrigley — and the team’s franchise-record 10th of the season. Only the Astros (11) have more.
• Lester’s 190th career victory was his first when allowing at least six runs. He yielded seven total in five innings, but only four of them were earned.
• Reliever Dillon Maples was recalled from Class AAA Iowa but didn’t make an appearance. It’s his fifth stint with the Cubs this season.