A minor setback on Andrelton Simmons’ right shoulder continues to test the Chicago Cubs’ infield depth.

Signing shortstop Andrelton Simmons to bolster the midfield infield defense was an understandable approach to building the Chicago Cubs roster.

Given the injury histories of shortstop Nico Horner and second baseman Nick Madrigal, as well as a ground-ball-reliant rotation, an infielder like Simmons could be valuable.

But the Cubs’ vision only works if Simmons is healthy – and when he will debut for them is unclear.

The Cubs slow down Simmons’ growth process after he again felt soreness in his right shoulder. He plays at the team’s compound in Mesa, Arizona and will resume training next week.

“I don’t think it’s a huge setback,” manager David Ross said Tuesday. “But it’s a bit like, let’s pause and build.”

Shoulder pain haunted the 32-year-old Simmons shortly after he informed a major league camp about a one-year contract in mid-March. Initially, the Cubs sounded optimistic that Simmons would only need a minimum of 10 days on the injured list to open the season. Three weeks into his stay in IL, Simmons’ ongoing soreness creates an unclear timeline for his return.

Simmons’ latest small setback puts the Cubs in a difficult position, limiting their defensive flexibility.

“The problem is you have an elite quarterback that we lack,” Ross said, “so sometimes that’s where you have to kind of weigh your options for where your ball is on the ground. jugs can be, different things like that.

“The guys did a very good job. We mixed and matched the group the best we could. You have a lot of elite All-Star players, and some of them you try to maximize their strengths and limit their weaknesses. I feel like we did a good job of getting the guys off with a crazy schedule to get started.”

The Cubs signed Jonathan Villar primarily to play at third base and filled in for second base for Madrigal when needed. Instead, Villar became Horner’s understudy at the shortstop, where he didn’t pick up many reps during spring training.

Although Villar played 432 shortstop games at the start of the season, this has not been his consistent position since 2016. Last year, he made 86 of his 109 starts for the New York Mets at third base.

Despite Villar’s defensive inconsistency, his play has been a valuable part of the Cubs. having one of the best attacks in baseball. Striker Villar entered Tuesday’s series-opening game in Atlanta hitting .341 on a .380 on-base percentage and 126 OPS+. Ross has cited him as a big part of the Cubs’ success due to how well he swings his bat.

“Some guys are great at defending, but they don’t hit,” Ross said. “We all have areas of our game that we can improve. … It is important for me to just keep working. We have a long season. And just because you start at 0 out of 20 doesn’t mean you won’t have a really good season. And I think it will be the same in defense.”

Villar has been working on his defense ahead of games with bench coach Andy Green, but with that comes balance. Ross said it’s difficult for Villar to get many opportunities for this kind of work on the pitch before the game because he needs representatives in three positions.

“I can’t let him go down on the day he plays third or second,” Ross said. “He can take days like today and he’ll be moving around and getting a real job and be ready to go the next time he’s in the squad.”

Without other mid-infield options on the 40-man roster, the Cubs would have to make roster changes to add another shortstop capable fielder like Ildemaro Vargas. Simmons’ injury forced Villar to start two short games in which he committed two errors in 17 innings. Villar accounts for four of the Cubs’ seven errors, including two at second base.

If Simmons’ progress continues to stall, the Cubs may have to make an inside move. By the end of next week, they should have a clearer idea of ​​whether the major league lineup would be better if they put Simmons in the 60-day IL to open a 40-man spot and help their average infield depth.

()