Miles Mastrobuoni’s defensive versatility is valuable as Chicago Cubs deal with middle infield injuries

ATLANTA — Since the beginning of spring training, Miles Mastrobuoni has understood his role and how he fits within the Chicago Cubs’ roster construction.

Clear communication from manager Craig Counsell has been vital in knowing what is expected of him. Part of that reality for Mastrobuoni, 28, is that having a minor-league option means he will spend time this year at Triple A where he has already played 10 games with Iowa. Mastrobuoni commended how Counsell relays that type of information to players.

“He shoots it straight, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Mastrobuoni told the Tribune on Wednesday. “If this is the way it’s gonna be, this is the way it’s gonna be and that’s fine and I think people really respect that because you don’t want to be told one thing and then another thing happens. Are things going to change? Absolutely. Things are going to change, but he’s very straightforward with you. We all appreciate that and we respect him big time for that.”

Defensive versatility has been a part of Mastrobuoni’s game since Tampa Bay selected him in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. He honed his pregame routine coming up through the Rays’ minor-league system and has continued to focus on getting in work at multiple positions to prepare himself for however Counsell might want to use him.

Mastrobuoni takes grounders at shortstop, second base and third base before each game and will head to the outfield during batting practice to read balls off bats.

“I’ve just been sticking to the same thing I’ve been doing,” Mastrobuoni said. “I think the mentality has to be there. You’ve got to embrace that, right? I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to know that you’re gonna have to work a little bit more bouncing around positions and understand don’t kill yourself at the same time, but it’s gonna take a little bit more work, which is fine.”

Inconsistent playing time is part of the bench gig, but the Cubs know Mastrobuoni can help them in multiple ways when called on. For their last two games in Atlanta this week, that meant Mastrobuoni was starting at shortstop with Dansby Swanson on the injured list and Nico Hoerner dealing with left hamstring tightness. Mastrobuoni made stellar backhanded plays in the third base hole in each game to nail the runner at first.

“What Mastro has done the last two days is not that easy,” Counsell said after the Cubs’ 7-1 win Wednesday night. “He’s made multiple plus plays, hasn’t really played there much at all this year and to step right in and give us great defense, on base three times today, a job well done.”

Swanson’s and Hoerner’s injuries leave the Cubs’ middle infield options thin on the active roster.

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Third baseman Christopher Morel be used if needed and Patrick Wisdom has been taking grounders at second base during pregame work. Wisdom told the Tribune he’s been doing it in part to be ready should they need him, given the injuries. He has worked with infield coach Jonathan Mota on double play turns to second base and understanding the technical side of the position.

Hoerner was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup because of his hamstring and the Cubs plan to assess his hamstring Thursday after he sat again for Wednesday’s series finale at Truist Park. As of pregame Wednesday, the Cubs were not considering an IL stint for Hoerner, but Counsell acknowledged he didn’t have an exact answer to that question.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Counsell said. “He’s not back in the lineup so I hope not, but of course if you’re missing games, at some point you get down the line it will be a discussion.”

The Cubs didn’t escape Atlanta without making a roster move, however. Right-hander Keegan Thompson went on the 15-day injured list Wednesday, retroactive to Sunday, with a viral illness. Left-hander Luke Little was recalled from Triple A.

Thompson is the 15th player to land on the IL through the first seven weeks of the season. Thompson has been sick since Sunday in Pittsburgh and was sent home Tuesday.

“He’s hasn’t gotten any better, he’s in rough shape,” Counsell said. “He’s lost a lot of strength during this so it wasn’t going to be tomorrow or the next day here.”