Chicago Cubs activate Nico Hoerner from the injured list. How will the middle infield options shake out? – The Mercury News

Nico Hoerner’s fluky right ankle sprain cost him only two weeks.

Hoerner initially feared he could miss more time after colliding with an umpire in shallow right field May 11 in San Diego. He bounced back well, though, and suddenly the Chicago Cubs infield depth is a strength.

Hoerner came off the injured list before Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. In a corresponding move, catcher Yan Gomes went on the IL with a left oblique strain. Willson Contreras was available off the bench and could be back in the lineup for Thursday’s series finale.

Gomes’ injury creates an extended chance for backup PJ Higgins, who started again Wednesday.

Manager David Ross indicated Gomes’ oblique strain is on the milder side, which is encouraging for an injury that can be tough to come back from.

“The news we got back is not as bad as we thought,” Ross said.

Hoerner’s return gives Ross a lot of middle infield options, depending on how he wants to mix and match Hoerner with Andrelton Simmons, Christopher Morel and Jonathan Villar. Nick Madrigal (lower back strain) remains on the IL and went through a second day of full baseball activities Wednesday as he continues to progress.

Hoerner was not in the lineup Wednesday as the Cubs started Simmons at shortstop and Morel at second base. On days Hoerner and Simmons are both in the lineup, expect to see Hoerner at shortstop despite Simmons never playing anywhere else in the field during his 11 seasons in the majors.

There’s a reason Ross wants that defensive setup between the two.

“There’s a real benefit from a guy that young and upcoming getting as many reps at short for us,” Ross explained. “And the versatility of Simmons — I don’t know that there really is a real position in the infield anymore. I mean, half the time, (third baseman) Patrick Wisdom (is) at shortstop, right? So I think moving those guys around, you’ll see that.”

When Simmons joined the Cubs after missing the first 32 games on the IL, he acknowledged his shoulder was not yet 100%. Giving Simmons time at second base could help as he gets stronger with more game reps.

More importantly, the Cubs can find out whether Hoerner is a long-term answer at short.

“Nico is a big-league shortstop,” Ross said. “He’s proven he can play big-league shortstop pretty consistently already in this season. Let’s see what happens at the end of the year and assess there. It’s easy to say you can be a shortstop in the big leagues long term, but you also have to do it. You have to prove it.”

Hoerner’s defensive performance this season made Simmons feel he didn’t need to rush back before his body was ready. He has been highly complimentary of Hoerner’s play, especially his backhanded jump throws from the hole.

Hoerner appreciates the praise from Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner.

“He’s someone who’s done it at the highest level,” Hoerner said Wednesday. “I mean, some of those stats that have been flashing, defensive runs saved in the last decade and things like that, that’s pretty amazing.

“So he’s a guy who not only does it but understands how he does it. He’s always thinking a play ahead and someone I’m excited to share the field with for sure.”

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