Adrian Sampson makes his case to stick with Cubs’ pitching staff
Sampson might prove to be the kind of reclamation project that helps lift the staff next season, whether he is in the rotation or coming out of the bullpen.
There’s a lot of time between now and when the Cubs’ 2022 pitching staff takes shape, but right-hander Adrian Sampson has been making his case to be a part of it next season.
Sampson threw a quality start Saturday against the Cardinals, capping a month in which he has made three starts and allowed no more than two runs in any of them. He has pitched successfully in relief, too, including 3⅓ scoreless innings Sept. 2 against the Pirates.
‘‘I love having the ball,’’ Sampson said. ‘‘I like having them pry it away from me. So regardless of if I come out of the bullpen or start, no matter what, I want the ball.’’
Picked up on a minor-league contract in May, Sampson might prove to be the kind of reclamation project that helps lift the Cubs’ staff next season, whether he is in the rotation or coming out of the bullpen.
Before coming to the Cubs, Sampson pitched in parts of three seasons with the Mariners (2016) and Rangers (2018-19). The Rangers released him after the 2019 season, and Sampson pitched in Korea in 2020.
Since being called up from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 18, Sampson has a 2.87 ERA and is averaging just more than one baserunner per inning pitched.
‘‘Every time he’s taken the mound, he’s given us a chance to win the ballgame,’’ manager David Ross said after Sampson’s start Saturday.
Sampson is ‘‘a pitching coach’s dream,’’ according to Tommy Hottovy, who called working with him ‘‘low maintenance’’ because he is ready to pitch whenever he is called upon and in whatever role is needed.
Sampson has shown that readiness since coming up from the minors, making four starts and five relief appearances, but his long-term goal is to be a part of the rotation.
‘‘I’ve started for my whole career,’’ he said. ‘‘I know how to stay healthy, and I know the routine, the five-day routine. I find comfort in that. . . . It’s just something I know how to do, and I’m pretty confident in myself.’’
Some of what kept Sampson from finding success as a starter in the past was injury. He needed elbow surgery in 2016 and dealt with back spasms two years ago. And he struggled with keeping runners off the bases in past stints in the majors, something he has done much better with the Cubs.
Ross said he thinks the turnaround this season is the result of Sampson trusting in his stuff and his game plan.
‘‘[He] knows what he wants to do out there, knows what he does well and sticks to that,’’ Ross said. ‘‘There’s a lot to be said about that, just having confidence in yourself and the pitches you can execute.’’
Sampson has held hitters to .130 and .167 batting averages with his sinker and changeup, respectively. That’s down significantly from his previous major-league experience.
Time and more innings will tell whether Sampson’s short-term success can last and whether it can translate into a more defined role on the Cubs’ staff next season.
Sampson is among several pitchers who will be in the mix for a spot in the rotation next spring. However that shakes out when the time comes, Hottovy sees them competing against each other as a good thing.
‘‘I think having healthy competition for spots is important,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it pushes guys through the offseason to be better. I think it pushes them to continue to want to improve.’’
Though he still sees himself as a starter and wants to fill that role in the future, wherever Sampson lands in the Cubs’ pitching plans for 2022, he just wants to produce.
‘‘Taking me out of the game is something that I want to make hard for the manager to do,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s always been my goal.’’