Cubs to put Justin Steele, Adrian Sampson on restricted list for Toronto series

Teams visiting Toronto this year have put not fully vaccinated players on the restricted list because of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for entry.

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The Cubs will put Justin Steele on the restricted list for their three-game series in Toronto this week.

The Cubs will put Justin Steele on the restricted list for their three-game series in Toronto this week.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs will put Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson on the restricted list for their three-game series in Toronto this week, manager David Ross announced Sunday.

Because of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for entry, visiting teams have been able to place not fully vaccinated players on the restricted list for games in Toronto and call up replacements. 

“Only two guys, we’d like it to be no one, but at the end of the day we trusted everybody to make the best decision for them,” Ross said. “And it gives other guys opportunity, as well. It is what it is. Everybody has to deal with it around the league.”

The Cubs did not announce any corresponding roster moves, but Triple-A pitchers Brendon Little and Jeremiah Estrada were in the American Family Field visitors’ clubhouse after the Cubs’ 9-7 loss to the Brewers.  

Right-hander Javier Assad, who debuted in the doubleheader against the Cardinals last week, is slated to start Monday in the series opener, followed by right-hander Marcus Stroman on Tuesday. The starter for Wednesday, five days after Steele’s last start, remains listed as TBD. 

Steele said he didn’t believe he would have been able to start Wednesday regardless of his vaccination status after leaving his last start with back tightness. 

“I was going to, at the earliest, pitch probably in ... the first game in St. Louis [next weekend], just depending on the back,” he said. “Still kind of day-to-day. But it’s definitely feeling better.”

He and Sampson, who held the Brewers to one run in 3„ innings Sunday, described their vaccination decisions as “personal.” 

“As I believe it is for everybody,” Steele said. “I talked with my friends and family, and the final decision was, I just felt like I didn’t need to get it.”

Said Sampson: “It’s just unfortunate that I can’t go and be with the guys. It was a personal decision the whole time, waiting to see as more info came out, and then the season comes along, and it’s just the last thing you want to think of. ... The timing of it worked out because I’m pitching today. If I was lined up to pitch in Toronto, it would have made it worse for the guys; someone’s got to bear the load a little bit.”

The Cubs’ roster won’t take the kind of hit that other teams have weathered — such as the Cardinals, whose pre-Toronto restricted-list moves included stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The Cubs even have more flexibility regarding the players they can call up as replacements, not being bound by traditional 40-man roster rules under the unique circumstances. 

By contrast, the vaccine threshold for relaxed COVID-19 protocols last season was 85% of players and other on-field personnel. The Cubs never reached it. 

“You just choose what you want to do, and that kind of thing, and hopefully get some appreciation from one another and not looking down on someone just because of the decision they made,” Sampson said. “But everyone’s been very accepting of people’s decisions here. It’s nice.”

Steele and Sampson are set to head back to Chicago while the team travels to Toronto and get ready for their next starts. For Steele, that also means getting treatment on his back. They’ll rejoin the team in St. Louis to wrap up the club’s longest road trip of the season. 

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