ST. LOUIS — When right-hander Adrian Sampson joined the Cubs on this two-city road trip, manager David Ross made sure to say, ‘‘I told you [so].’’
He didn’t lead with that, first asking about Sampson’s early flight Thursday into Pittsburgh. But after those niceties, Ross added with a smile: ‘‘I told you you’d be here.’’
In what has been a whirlwind year for him, Sampson made his first major-league start of the season in the Cubs’ 5-3 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. He held the Cardinals to two runs and four hits in five innings.
Both those runs came in the first, when Sampson gave up three consecutive hits, two of which were bloopers that dropped into left field.
‘‘Every time I’m out there, I want them to know I belong here,’’ Sampson said afterward. ‘‘That’s the biggest thing. Everybody in this room belongs in the big leagues. There [are] even guys that aren’t here that belong here. But once you get an opportunity, you’ve just got to show them your best stuff every time. Don’t take anything for granted.’’
He has the Cubs’ attention.
‘‘I thought he threw the ball really well, got a nice rhythm there,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Really nice performance.’’
Sampson had earned the start after holding the Braves to one hit in 4⅔ scoreless innings of relief last Sunday. The next day, the Cubs had to trim the number of pitchers on their roster from 14 to 13 because a new limit went into effect. They optioned Sampson to Triple-A Iowa.
‘‘I know I’ll see you back real soon,’’ Ross said he told Sampson in what he described as an ‘‘extremely difficult’’ conversation.
Sampson was upset.
‘‘I think I handled it not the best,’’ Sampson said. ‘‘But I thought I told him what I wanted to tell him. You’ve got to be careful when things like that happen because [if] you say the wrong thing, it deters people from wanting to keep you around. So I tried to be precise with my words and let them know that I was not happy with their decision.’’
He did, though, understand the calculation the Cubs were making.
That back-and-forth, however, barely begins to describe Sampson’s year.
He began the season in the Cubs’ organization, but they designated him for assignment May 10, and the Mariners claimed him off waivers. He never pitched for the Mariners, who cut him eight days later, putting Sampson in ‘‘DFA limbo,’’ as Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy put it.
When he cleared waivers, Sampson elected to become a free agent instead of accepting an outright assignment to the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate. The Cubs signed him to a minor-league contract May 31. He hadn’t pitched in a game in more than three weeks.
‘‘For him to take that all in stride, it’s just a testament to who he is and his work ethic,’’ Hottovy said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ‘‘And he’s being rewarded for handling things the right way.’’
Sampson said the downtime was more of a mental hurdle than a physical one, but it was one he was prepared for.
‘‘It was a wild ride for a little bit,’’ he said. ‘‘But then once I got back on the mound, I was able to just go about my business and maintain the momentum I had before all the DFAs and all that kind of stuff. But it was exciting to get a start again.’’