Could Nico Hoerner end the Cubs’ revolving door in the leadoff spot?

Hoerner appears to be the frontrunner to hit first in the order for the Cubs.

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Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner hits a double in a spring training game against the A’s on Wednesday.

Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner hits a double in a spring training game against the A’s on Wednesday.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — For second baseman Nico Hoerner, the biggest adjustment hitting leadoff has been routine-related.

“I’m always ready for the first thing I have to do,” he said, “it’s just, literally, you’re the first thing.”

Earlier in the spring, manager David Ross said Hoerner would be “in the mix” for the leadoff spot in the regular season. Now, Hoerner has led off for the Cubs in each of the four spring training games he’s played and appears to be the leading candidate for the role.

“When I look at Nico, it’s about setting a tone for our group to start a game,” Ross said. “He’s as ready to go as anybody I’ve ever been around. Something about the way he plays sets a great tone for our team.”

In the Cubs’ 6-1 win against the A’s on Thursday, Hoerner went 1-for-3 and made hard contact in his first two at-bats. He kicked things off in the bottom of the first inning with a long flyout to center field. In the third, he led off with a double. Ian Happ then drove him in with a well-struck single to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

“I’m excited,” Hoerner said. “I think it’s a nice chance to help the team, set the table a little bit.”

Hoerner has hit leadoff three times in his MLB career. He said he’d hit first in the order “here and there” growing up, in summer ball and in college.

“Probably have hit second most in my life,” Hoerner said. “But leadoff feels good. It’s an exciting opportunity. I know the Cubs haven’t really had a stable spot in that lineup in a while.”

In fact, the Cubs have been searching for a regular leadoff hitter since Dexter Fowler left for St. Louis after the 2016 season.

Last year alone, Ross wrote 10 different players into the leadoff spot. Before that, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ — to name a few — all tried their hand at the role. At one point Rizzo joked to Bryant that the spot was “cursed.”

Hoerner isn’t necessarily a traditional leadoff hitter, something Ross acknowledges. Hoerner does make a lot of contact, a useful trait at the top of the order. Last year, he had the third-highest in-zone contact rate on the team (93.9%), trailing only Ildemaro Vargas and Nick Madrigal. But throughout his career, he’s also shown a knack for moving baserunners, hitting better with runners on (.310) than with the bases empty (.254).

Ross brought the idea of leading off to Hoerner early on in camp, just to give him a heads up before throwing him in there when games started.

“The message has just been not to change much,” Hoerner said. “There’s some things here and there, but for the most part, just continuing to focus on my strengths and going from there.”

It’s been a spring full of adjustments. Hoerner and shortstop Dansby Swanson have been getting to know each other as middle infield partners. Everyone is getting familiar with the rule changes.

Hoerner admitted he thinks he violated the shift limits on the first pitch of his first two games, but he wasn’t penalized for it. In addition to requiring two infielders on each side of second base, the new shift rule requires infielders to have both feet on the dirt when the pitcher is on the rubber.

“I was just so used to having my feet on the grass and then landing on the dirt and just gaining some ground,” Hoerner said. “So, that part of it is different. I don’t think it’ll be too much of an issue. It’s a little more straight up and down.”

Count Hoerner as a fan of the rule changes overall.

“I do think that there’s room for some feel sometimes,” he said, “but that’s not on the umpires at all. I know that they’re being held to it as well. So, we’ll all figure it out.”

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