ST. LOUIS — When Nico Hoerner logged the Cubs’ first home run of the season, manager David Ross burst into the interview room at Wrigley Field after the game and said, ‘‘Who had Nico Hoerner on their first-home-run pool?’’
Hoerner smiled when he was reminded of Ross’ reaction before the Cubs’ 5-3 loss Saturday to the Cardinals. His most recent homer, which he blasted over the left-field fence Friday, brought his season total to a career-high four.
‘‘There’s a lot that comes from just the opportunity to play every day and just accumulate at-bats, face pitchers multiple times,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘And all those things are very real. . . . But I think there’s a lot more there still.’’
Hoerner is one of the longer-tenured players on the Cubs’ roster, which has seen dramatic turnover in the last couple of years, so it’s easy to forget how little professional experience he has had. This season is Hoerner’s first with at least 50 major-league games. And he made his debut after the Double-A season in 2019.
Now Hoerner is setting single-season career highs every couple of days. On Thursday, he set a career high in RBI (18). The next day, he hit his fourth homer to add two more RBI to his total.
On the defensive side, he has established himself as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, despite external rumblings during the offseason about whether he could or should be their answer at the position this season.
‘‘The concept of a ceiling is kind of silly in this game,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘And I don’t know what that is. And I’m excited to see what that is. And that’s just a day-by-day thing.
‘‘I’ve never set out to be drafted in a certain round or go to a certain school or make it to the big leagues by a certain year. It’s always been day by day for me. And I’ve been fortunate how things have turned out, obviously, but that’s going to be my approach moving forward. I think it’s more enjoyable.’’
Hoerner went to Stanford, was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft and made it to the big leagues the next year.
Suzuki to take live batting practice
Outfielder Seiya Suzuki (sprained left ring finger) was expected to take live batting practice Saturday in Arizona, the Cubs said. Ross said if all goes well, he anticipates Suzuki rejoining the team Tuesday in Chicago to be evaluated for next steps.
Progressing to live batting practice is a good sign for a rehab process that has been ‘‘moving pretty fast,’’ according to Ross, since Suzuki headed to Arizona last week.
Mills gets the nod to start Sunday
The Cubs originally penciled in right-hander Matt Swarmer to start the series finale Sunday against the Cardinals. By the time they got to St. Louis, however, they had changed their probable starter to right-hander Alec Mills.
Mills already was stretched out after throwing 4⅓ innings in a blowout loss Monday to the Pirates. It will be his first start of the season after a back injury during spring training took him out of the competition for a rotation spot. Ross said he plans to try Swarmer out of the bullpen.