Cubs option Adrian Sampson to trim roster to 13-pitcher limit, recall Nelson Velazquez
MLB and the players’ union twice pushed back the 13-pitcher limit amid injury concerns coming out of a short spring training.
PITTSBURGH — The Cubs made good use of the extra roster flexibility Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association granted teams at the start of the season. It helped them weather a spike of injuries, which has hit their rotation especially hard lately.
On Monday, however, the 13-pitcher roster limit went into effect. To comply, the Cubs optioned right-hander Adrian Sampson to Triple-A Iowa and recalled outfielder Nelson Velazquez.
Sampson threw 4⅔ scoreless innings of relief Sunday in a 6-0 loss to the Braves.
‘‘The conversation with Sampson was extremely difficult,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘The guy goes out there and saves your bullpen, saves the team, allows us to reset that bullpen with probably one the better performances I’ve seen him have and one of the better performances out of our bullpen.
‘‘But he’s probably down for three days, can’t use him. And we’re cutting down a pitcher. So at this moment in time, we cannot afford to be short with no off days coming up.’’
The Cubs are in the middle of a stretch of 17 games without a break on the schedule. Their next day off is Monday.
To address injury concerns coming out of a short spring training, MLB and the union agreed to expand rosters for the first month of the season and twice pushed back the implementation of the 13-pitcher limit.
The Cubs still have three starting pitchers on the 15-day injured list with soft-tissue injuries: right-hander Marcus Stroman (inflammation in right shoulder) and left-handers Drew Smyly (strained right oblique) and Wade Miley (strained left shoulder).
‘‘The thing about going down to 13 pitchers is we need six [or] seven innings out of [our starters],’’ Ross said. ‘‘Go a little bit deeper so you don’t have to go down [to the bullpen for] four or five guys. The more the starters can give us length, the better off we’re going to be.’’
Ross said he expects to use Velazquez to exploit matchups. Since the Cubs designated Clint Frazier for assignment a little more than a week ago — he since has cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A — and with Seiya Suzuki on the IL, the Cubs haven’t had a go-to right-handed bat in right field.
‘‘He’ll probably make sense some against lefties, pinch-hit,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Kind of the role that Frazier had while he was here.’’
Though he is better known for his power, Velazquez had a single in each game he played against the Brewers last month, when he made his major-league debut.
‘‘During those three or four days,’’ Velazquez said of his first call-up, ‘‘I just talked with the guys, like [Jason] Heyward and [Willson] Contreras, and asked them what they do or what they try to feel when they’re hitting. And they explained to me: ‘The most important thing to hit is be on time. If you’re on time, you’ll be able to adjust your swing, no matter what pitch it is.’ ’’
Newcomb clears waivers
Left-handed reliever Sean Newcomb cleared waivers after the Cubs designated him for assignment last week, and he was sent outright to Iowa. Newcomb has two days to accept the assignment or opt for free agency.