Late in the broadcast of the Cubs’ 10-2 win over the Padres Monday night, Len and JD were musing about the spectacular debut of shortstop Nico Hoerner, and one of them (can’t remember who) said, “Someday we’ll just say ‘Nico’ about him, just a first name, and everyone will know who we’re talking about, like ‘Javy’.”
Someday just might be today. Nico had one of the best debuts in recent major-league history, with two singles, a triple, two runs scored, four RBI and some nice plays in the field. And then there’s this:
Shortstop Nico Hoerner has 3 hits & 4 RBI in his MLB debut for the @Cubs.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) September 10, 2019
He's the 2nd middle infielder to have 3+ hits & 4+ RBI in his MLB debut since RBI became an official stat in 1920, along with Phillies SS Ted Kazanski on 6/25/1953 - against the Cubs.#EverybodyIn
(If you’re remembering Starlin Castro’s MLB debut and thinking he did this, nope. Starlin had six RBI, but only two hits, a triple and a home run, in his debut game in Cincinnati May 7, 2010. And I think Nico’s debut was better, because the stakes are higher for the team right now.)
The Cubs began this game on a high note. Ben Zobrist led off with a single, and one out later, Nicholas Castellanos gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
That baseball went a long, long way:
#Cubs 2 @ #Padres 0 [T1-1o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) September 10, 2019
Nicholas Castellanos homers (25): fly ball to CF (2-run)
Hit: 427.59ft, 106.79mph, 27.21°
Pitch: 94.8mph Two-Seam Fastball (RHP Cal Quantrill, 13) pic.twitter.com/9yyHWLZhol
Nico’s first major-league at-bat came in the second inning [VIDEO].
Len Kasper begins that clip by saying, “I think he had the best camp of any player not invited to major-league spring training I’ve ever seen.” I would concur with that. Nico played in 14 major-league spring games and went 8-for-17 (.471) with three doubles, two triples, a home run — and no strikeouts. Granted, that’s spring training, and a lot of it against minor-league pitchers. But for lack of a better description, he just looked like a major-league player. And that’s not just me saying that:
Baker, who now works in the Cubs’ mental skills department, played for Esquer at the University of California, and he knew he could trust his old coach to give an honest opinion about the kid Chicago just selected out of Stanford. Esquer -- now the head baseball coach with the Cardinal -- raved about Hoerner’s makeup and intelligence, along with his skills on a baseball diamond.
”It was funny,” Baker said on Thursday morning. “He told me, ‘Don’t bring him around big league camp, because everyone’s going to want him to stay.’ It was very prophetic.”
The Cubs added a run in the fourth, and again, Nico was involved. Victor Caratini led off with a single and was forced at second by Hoerner. Jason Heyward singled Nico to third. David Bote was the next hitter, and he walked — but ball four was a wild pitch [VIDEO].
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, but that was a Javy-like read on the wild pitch, which didn’t get too far away from catcher Austin Hedges. That was a great slide, and funny to watch pitcher Cal Quantrill — a Stanford teammate of Hoerner — leap out of the way.
The Padres scored a pair in the bottom of the inning, thanks in part to a bad throw by Zobrist on a potential double-play ball. One of the runs off Kyle Hendricks was unearned as a result.
So it’s 3-2 entering the fifth, and that’s when the Cubs put the game away. Kyle Schwarber led off the inning and made it 4-2 [VIDEO].
That was Kyle’s 35th of the year and the Cubs’ 224th of the season. They need 12 home runs in their last 19 games to break the franchise record (235, set in 2004). At their current pace (1.57 per game) they should hit 30 more.
Back to the fifth inning: Singles by Castellanos and Caratini sandwiched around a strikeout put runners on first and third.
You cannot make this stuff up, seriously, bring this game’s storyline to a Hollywood producer and they’d throw you out of the office. Hoerner’s two-run triple made it 6-2.
Bote singled Heyward to third and then Hendricks helped out with the bat [VIDEO].
That was a perfectly placed suicide squeeze, making it 8-2. The Cubs put two more on the board in the sixth. Schwarber and Castellanos singled to lead off the frame and both advanced on an infield out.
That two-run single completed the Cubs scoring for the evening.
Meanwhile, Hendricks was breezing through this game, apart from the little two-run glitch in the fourth, and would have finished the sixth if not for a throwing error by Bote. Brad Wieck, who the Cubs acquired from the Padres for Carl Edwards Jr., finished off the inning and Alec Mills, James Norwood and Derek Holland combined for the final three innings, allowing two hits and no runs with three strikeouts.
Hendricks’ good outing reduced his 2019 road ERA from 5.20 to 4.94. That’s still not great, but at least it appears to be trending in the right direction.
Now, obviously, Nico Hoerner isn’t going to do this every game. But it’s absolutely clear to me, just as it was in spring training, that he’s already good enough to be a major-league player. He seemed to impart an energy that the Cubs have been lacking for much of this season. Even if Addison Russell doesn’t have to go to the seven-day concussion list, I’d hope Nico will play many, if not most, days in the starting lineup. And can you imagine the reception he’ll get when he plays his first game at Wrigley Field, possibly Friday?
He’ll definitely start Tuesday’s game:
Hoerner will start at SS tomorrow btw— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 10, 2019
Here are some fun Nico facts:
Last 4 #Cubs with 3 hits in MLB debut— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 10, 2019
tonight - Nico Hoerner
7/19/2013 - Junior Lake
3/31/2008 - Kosuke Fukudome
9/2/1988 - Doug Dascenzo
Here’s hoping Nico has a better career than those guys.
Nico Hoerner is the first #Cubs player with 3+ hits and 4+ RBI in MLB Debut since Dee Fondy on April 17, 1951— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 10, 2019
Dee Fondy was 26 and had spent five years in the minor leagues when he did that. Nico is 22 and about 15 months removed from his last game at Stanford.
From a Padres beat writer:
Nico Hoerner is a rookie playing his first big league ballgame, you say? Nah. No way.— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) September 10, 2019
For his part, Nico was awed by the crowd reaction in San Diego:
Nico Hoerner on hearing his name chanted on the road in his debut: “That part was just otherworldly. Really grateful for that. Its about as good as it gets.”— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 10, 2019
When you have impressed Ben Zobrist, you have definitely arrived:
Ben Zobrist on Nico: “Very important game for us after the last few tough days. To see his name in the lineup and have him show up and keep his composure and do his job really well it was definitely a real breathe of fresh air for where we’re at right now.”— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 10, 2019
The Cubs gained ground on the Cardinals, who were idle Monday, and now trail them by four games. They also gained on two wild-card contenders, the Phillies and Diamondbacks, who both lost Monday evening. The Brewers won, so Milwaukee remains two games behind the Cubs for the second wild-card spot.
Tuesday night’s second game of this four-game set in San Diego, featuring Nico Hoerner at shortstop, will again be at 9:10 p.m. CT. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Ronald Bolanos will go for the Padres. TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago Plus (and nationally on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Padres market territories).
Go Nico! Go Cubs!