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‘No one expects him to be a savior,’ Cubs say of prospect Nico Hoerner

Fifteen months after his last college game, Hoerner became the first Cub with three hits and four RBI in his debut since 1951 (Dee Fondy). He was called up for the series against the Padres only because of injuries to shortstops Javy Baez and Addison Russell.

Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner stands in the dugout before his major-league debut against the San Diego Padres on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019,
Gregory Bull/AP

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

His second?

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

One night later, 500 miles away in San Diego, Cubs fans at Petco Park began chanting his name, the result of a two-run triple and a two-run single in back-to-back innings of his big-league debut. His four RBI helped the Cubs beat the Padres 10-2.

Barely 15 months after playing his last college game for Stanford, the 22-year-old shortstop pressed into duty by extreme need on the big-league roster had one of the most impressive debuts in Cubs history — and perhaps the most significant, given the stakes and date.

‘‘We needed help up here, and he was the next man up,’’ said McLeod, who then echoed president Theo Epstein’s sentiments by 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.’’


Hoerner, the 24th pick in the 2018 draft, blooped a hit to right field leading off the second inning in his first big-league at-bat.


By the time he gave the Cubs a 10-2 lead in the opener of this four-game series with a two-run single in the sixth, it was the first Cubs debut to feature three hits and four RBI since Dee Fondy in 1951.

Not bad for a kid making the jump to the majors from Class AA — by way of his couch.

‘‘I think it’s especially unique to get a chance to debut with a team that’s actually trying to win,’’ said Hoerner, 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.

‘‘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, it makes it a little easier, I think.’’

The aggressive move by the Cubs came after Addison Russell was hit in the head by a pitch Sunday against the Brewers and put into Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol. He was to be examined by the Padres’ team doctor Monday. Until Russell is cleared to play, Hoerner will be the Cubs’ starting shortstop, manager Joe Maddon said.

Russell’s beaning came a day after Javy Baez, the National League’s All-Star starter at shortstop, was diagnosed with a fractured left thumb. Baez was examined Monday by a hand specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis and the expectation that he’ll be sidelined for 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.

Hoerner, the first player from the 2018 draft to play in the majors, was scheduled to make up for lost at-bats in the Arizona Fall League starting next week.

‘‘We’re going to need him to do that now in the big leagues,’’ McLeod said.

The victory moved the Cubs four games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central and enabled them to stay two games ahead of the Brewers in the race for the second NL wild-card.

‘‘The time is urgent right now with where we are in the standings,’’ McLeod said. ‘‘So hopefully [Hoerner] can help us.’’

Hoerner had a .344 on-base percentage for Tennessee. Before suffering the wrist injury, he was a sensation in spring training, going 8-for-17 with six extra-base hits as an extra player from the minor-league side of camp.