Shortstop Andrelton Simmons makes first start with Cubs to open series against Pirates
Simmons spent the first five weeks of the season on the injured list because of inflammation in his right shoulder.
Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons said he felt a little anxious taking the field in the ninth inning of a close game Sunday against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix.
‘‘As soon as I touched that ball, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m back,’ ’’ he said of the game-ending double play he turned. ‘‘Honestly, still to this day, it takes me that first ball. It’s like, ‘OK, I’ve done this before.’ I don’t know why.’’
Simmons has done this plenty of times before, joining the Cubs a decade into his major-league career. But the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory Sunday marked his first regular-season game with them.
On Monday, as the Cubs opened a three-game series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, Simmons was in the starting lineup for the first time. He singled in his first at-bat and finished 1-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.
‘‘A little frustrating,’’ Simmons said when he was asked before the game to describe the past few weeks. ‘‘But I’m happy I’m here now. It was pretty exciting [Sunday], especially getting in the game and getting a win.’’
Simmons began the season on the 10-day injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder, an issue that flared up during spring training. He played in only one game in spring training, getting two at-bats as the designated hitter against the Angels.
Simmons said his recovery took longer than he expected, describing his progress as slowing as he neared his return.
‘‘In order to feel like I’m good, it just didn’t get over the hump, exactly,’’ Simmons said. ‘‘But it keeps getting better and better every day.’’
Seeing how the Cubs’ middle infield was faring, however, Simmons also didn’t feel rushed.
‘‘Nico [Hoerner] was doing really good,’’ Simmons said. ‘‘I’m like: ‘I’ve got some room to improve. Should I try to jump back in, or do I try to keep getting better — as good as I can — so I’m close to my best?’ ’’
Last week, Hoerner sprained an ankle in a collision with an umpire in San Diego and landed on the 10-day IL. The day before Hoerner’s injury, second baseman Nick Madrigal went on the IL with a strained lower back.
Simmons was on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa at the time. By Sunday, he had joined the big-league team. He said Monday that his shoulder felt ‘‘pretty good’’ but not 100%.
‘‘He’s one of the better shortstops that’s been around for probably, what, the past 10 or 15 years defensively,’’ said manager David Ross, who played with Simmons with the Braves at the beginning of the four-time Gold Glove winner’s career. ‘‘He’s got some hardware. There’s a lot of range up the middle, willing to do whatever we ask of him, good teammate, been doing it a long time, good baseball instincts. Baseball IQ’s really high.’’
Several Cubs have shared the leadoff role this season, with outfielder Rafael Ortega shouldering most of the load. But with left-hander Dillon Peters starting Monday for the Pirates, Willson Contreras slid into the leadoff spot for the fifth time this season and had a double and a grand slam to highlight an eight-run first inning.
‘‘Having [former Cubs manager] Joe Maddon move me around I think helped me a lot,’’ Contreras said of hitting all over the top half of the batting order this season. ‘‘Now that Rossy is moving me around, it doesn’t bother me. Every at-bat is important. That’s the way that I think of [it].’’