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In return from injuries, Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson give the Chicago Cubs a boost in a 4-3 extra-innings win

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For the last six games, Nico Hoerner could be spotted in the Chicago Cubs’ dugout with his spikes on and mitt in hand.

Hoerner avoided the injured list as he worked through left hamstring tightness, but it left him alongside shortstop Dansby Swanson to watch as the Cubs’ offense scuffled in their absence. Fittingly, one of the biggest moments in their return Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves found Hoerner.

Despite quickly falling behind 0-2 in the count to Braves lefty Aaron Bummer, Hoerner smacked an elevated sinker off home plate, leaving second baseman Ozzie Albies without a clean play on the high chopper. Cody Bellinger scored without a throw for the walk-off 4-3 win in 10 innings.

“Watching the game you always do pick up little things,” Hoerner said of his time on the bench recovering. “I enjoy watching all of our guys go about their work. Obviously not the results we wanted over the weekend with the Pirates series, but the outlook for our group is still as good as ever I feel like. Exciting to have our full lineup out there again today.”

Swanson collected two hits, including a double and run scored, in his first game since May 7. Right-hander Javier Assad kept the Cubs (27-22) in the game without his best stuff and the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field. He allowed three runs (two earned) in 4 2/3 innings, however, the bullpen picked up Assad as five relievers combined for 6 1/3 shutout innings with only two base runners allowed on a single and hit by pitch.

Swanson’s heads-up play to throw out Marcell Ozuna, the automatic runner on second to start the 10th, at third base for the second out in the inning gave lefty reliever Luke Little a boost to escape without a run scoring.

Photos: Chicago Cubs 4, Atlanta Braves 3 (10) at Wrigley Field

“It was tough initially to say that I didn’t need to be out there, it was very prideful of me to try and continue to keep playing,” Swanson said before the win. “But I think the best thing obviously for us and myself was to take that time off. … You just gotta use your time wisely. It’s a different kind of opportunity to talk to teammates, help guys with whatever they need, be of assistance and service however possible.”

The Cubs played a man short on the bench while Hoerner was sidelined the previous six games. Looking back on the decision, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said an IL move becomes hard once the three-day limit to backdate a move passes, as it would have forced Hoerner to be out even longer. Although ideally Hoerner would have been back Saturday or Sunday, the Cubs felt certain he would be ready to return to the lineup following Monday’s off day.

“It’s been a challenge and I think some of that is playing short-handed at times and some of that is guys that we count on have been struggling,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “But candidly, at this moment, I’m not overly concerned given the way we swung the bats in April.”

Hoyer pointed out the Cubs’ OPS and runs scored are better this month than Atlanta’s “and I don’t think anyone’s overly concerned with the Braves’ offense.” The Cubs owned a better OPS by .006 and had scored 12 more runs at the start of their series, which put both teams in the bottom third offensively. Too often they have lacked the big hit with runners in scoring position the last three weeks. In such situations in May entering Tuesday, the Cubs are hitting .217 (28th in the majors) along with a .671 OPS (23rd) and 63 runs which puts them ahead of only four other teams.

“These are the things that happen over a long season,” Hoyer said. “You have your ups and downs and right now, or at least for the last few weeks, we’ve been certainly in a low point offensively. There’s been too many games we’ve had zero, one or two hits through six innings and we haven’t been stringing bases together and that is undeniable.

“Hopefully getting Dansby and Nico back and you keep grinding, I think we’ll get back to where we were in April where we felt like we had really good at-bats and we had real depth.”

Once the Cubs wrap up their season series this week versus the Braves, they begin a stretch of 10 consecutive games against National League Central opponents, two of whom — the Cardinals and the Reds — they have yet to play this season. With Swanson and Hoerner back in the lineup and the weather warming, this is the moment for the offense to get rolling.

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Meghan Montemurro , 2024-05-22 06:33:23

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