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Nico Hoerner thriving in utility role as unique rookie season concludes

Hoerner was expected to mainly play second base, but the rookie infielder has played five positions this season.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

MILWAUKEE — If there’s anything second baseman Nico Hoerner has learned during his rookie season, it’s that time flies in the big leagues.

The Cubs’ rookie second baseman is approaching the end of his first “full” season in the majors and has played a lot of roles for manager David Ross, ranging from occasional leadoff hitter and pinch runner to utilityman and late-game defensive replacement.

But Hoerner also has had to learn what comes with different roles, including the adjustment of playing time. He began the season playing nearly every day but has played sparingly down the stretch for the first time in his baseball career.

“It’s definitely an interesting thing to learn to handle, obviously,” Hoerner said. “I’ve never had an extended period of not playing before in my career, but definitely something almost everyone goes through.”

While many expected Hoerner to be cemented into the second-base job, he has played five positions as Ross has used him in a utility role. Hoerner’s versatility has made him a seemingly perfect fit for the role, as the team has gotten contributions from Jason Kipnis and David Bote at second, as well.

“He’s been that Swiss Army Knife type of player that I’ve used all over the field,” Ross said. “He comes in with a great attitude. He’s very professional. I feel like he continues to grow. He’s trying to get his game as well rounded as possible, and that’s a great thing. He’s a joy to have on the team and he brings energy every day to this group, but it’s fun to watch him continue to work daily.”

Hoerner has a .239/.317/.273 slash line with 13 RBI and three stolen bases in 36 games. He went through a slump but has come on strong recently, hitting .333 (6-for-18) over his last seven games.

“It’s important to understand how to handle that, and I feel like we’ve got a lot of great veterans here who have helped me with that [adjustment] as well as trying to figure out what’s productive, because going and trying to rework everything at this point of the year isn’t going to do a whole lot for you,” Hoerner said. “But you also do need to make adjustments. There’s some trial and error involved, but having a great staff and good veterans on the team has made everything a lot easier.”

Cubs veterans haven’t taken Hoerner’s work and willingness to get better during his rookie season lightly, either. He has caught the attention of one of their newest additions.

“The biggest thing I enjoy about Nico thus far is that he’s, he’s very inquisitive,” outfielder Cameron Maybin said. “Just before I got in the shower, we were talking baseball. He was asking questions, and that’s what’s going to make him special. He plays the game the right way. He plays it with a lot of respect, and he’s got a lot of tools. As long as he wants to continue to learn to get better, the sky’s the limit for him.”