Cubs getting creative filling in for injured second baseman Nico Hoerner

Cubs infielder Michael Busch and coach Jonathan Mota walked from one spot in between first and second base to another farther up the middle. They paused, talked, Mota pointed past home plate, and then they moved on to the next spot.

“The challenge is really going to be positioning,” Mota said before the Cubs 4-2 win Sunday against the Reds. “The best thing that we can do with him is find something in the stadium that gives him the reference points.”

Busch played second base Sunday for the first time since joining the Cubs. He had played over 200 minor-league games at second in the Dodgers’ organization as a utility infielder, but since the Cubs traded for him this winter, he has almost exclusively played first base.

Busch wasn’t tested Sunday — no ball was hit to him with left-handed fly-ball pitcher Shota Imanaga on the mound — but as the Cubs manage second baseman Nico Hoerner’s absence, they’ll have to weigh all of their options, even the more creative ones.

On deck: Cubs at Rays

Tuesday: Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.47 ERA) vs. Zach Eflin (3-4, 4.14), 5:50 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.Wednesday: Javier Assad (4-2, 2.74) vs. Aaron Civale (2-5, 5.51), 5:50 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.Thursday: Justin Steele (0-3, 3.65) vs. Taj Bradley (1-4, 5.17), 5:50 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

The Cubs are expected to decide by Tuesday, when they open a three-game series at the Rays, whether they’re going to put Hoerner (fractured right hand) on the 10-day injured list or continue to play out his injury day by day.

“No matter what the injury is, saying when the perfect time to come back I think is usually the hardest part of rehab,” Hoerner said, “whether it’s a two-month thing or a two-week thing or a five-day thing.”

If the Cubs don’t put Hoerner on the IL, they’ll continue playing with a short bench, as they did when he was sidelined for six games last month with a left hamstring issue. Hoerner, though, could pinch-run this time. He has taken ground balls since the injury, leaving open the possibility that he could serve as a late-game defensive replacement before being comfortable swinging a bat.

The Cubs’ versatile infielders give them several ways to fill the hole at second.

“Unfortunate with Nico being down,” Busch said. “But just whatever we need.”

Though Busch settled into a regular role at first base with the Cubs, he has continued to take grounders all around the infield on days he has been out of the lineup or serving as the designated hitter.

“There’s ways that [the ball is] going to come at you that are just so different than first base,” manager Craig Counsell said of the challenges of the position change. “There could be plays where you put your body in positions that you haven’t been put in at first base.”

Busch was the choice Sunday as a left-handed batter, as Counsell considered matchups against Reds right-handed starter Frankie Montas.

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Against left-handed starting pitchers, David Bote has been starting at second base in Hoerner’s absence. Third baseman Christopher Morel also has been taking pregame reps at second, and he has experience at the position.

If the Cubs put Hoerner on the IL, they can fill the open roster spot with another infielder.

Nick Madrigal might have been an obvious choice to be recalled, but shortly after being optioned to Triple-A Iowa last week, he broke his left hand on a stray pitch and is out.

Rookie Luis Vazquez is a strong defensive option. He was out of Iowa’s lineup all weekend. The Cubs have turned to him when they’ve prioritized defensive depth.

Vazquez made his debut three weeks ago in a support role when Hoerner returned to the lineup from that hamstring issue and shortstop Dansby Swanson (sprained right knee) was activated from the IL. Both had a smooth transition back to playing, and Vazquez appeared in two games and had one at-bat in 10 days in the majors.

Utility player Miles Mastrobuoni is the Cubs’ left-handed-hitting option, but he has hit only .180 since returning to Iowa about three weeks ago.

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