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Chicago Cubs send Ben Brown to the injured list with a neck strain — and eye Nico Hoerner’s return to the lineup

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Right-hander Ben Brown‘s great beginning to his rookie season has now been paused.

Brown landed on the 15-day injured list Tuesday because of a neck strain, a move that is retroactive to Sunday. The Chicago Cubs activated right-hander Colten Brewer from the IL as the corresponding move. Brown returned to Chicago for further testing on the left side of his neck. Manager Craig Counsell said Brown had been battling the issue for the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve got to figure out what’s going on,” said Counsell, who said there wasn’t one specific incident that caused Brown’s neck injury.

Brown, 24, has posted a 2.68 ERA in his 14 games (eight starts) since his rough MLB debut March 30. He wasn’t as efficient in his last two starts when he was tagged for five runs in five innings against the Reds on June 2 and allowed three runs on two home runs in his last outing Saturday in Cincinnati. The three home runs given up between his two most recent starts (nine innings) were more than he previously surrendered (two) in his first 13 games (46 1/3 innings).

Left-hander Jordan Wicks, who threw a bullpen Tuesday, would be the obvious choice to take Brown’s spot in the rotation. In his first career relief appearance Saturday, Wicks threw 52 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run and three hits.

The Cubs, though, appear to have avoided losing their second baseman to the IL.

While Nico Hoerner wasn’t in the starting lineup again Tuesday, he went through an extensive hitting session pregame. If his fractured right hand does not swell Wednesday, Counsell is optimistic Hoerner will start that night.

Hoerner hasn’t been in the lineup since getting hit on his right hand during a check swing Thursday at Great American Ball Park. He was used as a pinch runner in the ninth inning Friday but otherwise hasn’t played since sustaining a small fracture in his hand. The Cubs could have put him on the IL Tuesday and taken advantage of the three-day window to make the move retroactive, which would sideline him for a minimum of seven more days.

But the Cubs are confident Hoerner could return Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays and be able to play without his hand hindering him. Doctors told them there was a very slim chance he could worsen his facture by playing. Counsell said before the game he felt comfortable using Hoerner off the bench Tuesday night if needed, which he did. Hoerner entered the game as a defensive replacement at second base to start the bottom of the seventh inning.

“He had significant swelling in there so trying to get rid of that, we’re three days in and the off day obviously helped with that,” Counsell said. “He didn’t do any hitting activities for three days.”