Sampson impresses again in 2022 audition

September 25th, 2021

CHICAGO -- does not boast the big league resume of Kyle Hendricks. The righty is not an up-and-coming rotation arm like Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele or Keegan Thompson.

Still, Sampson has proven valuable down the stretch for Chicago.

"You need those glue type of guys," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.

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In an 8-5 loss to the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on Saturday -- a defeat that helped St. Louis secure a club-record 15-game winning streak -- Sampson held up his end with six solid innings. It was not enough to halt the red-hot Cards, but the outing served a purpose.

Those six innings opposite Cardinals lefty Jon Lester came a day after a two-inning mess by righty Zach Davies. The effort also came ahead of Thompson's scheduled start Sunday, when the rookie right-hander will be working with a limited pitch count.

Thanks to Sampson's ability to move into the rotation and provide consistent showings, the Cubs have been able to keep Alzolay in the bullpen down the stretch to monitor his innings. And if a young starter hits a snag in an abbreviated outing, Sampson has offered multiple innings of relief.

Hottovy said a versatile pitcher like Sampson helps a team be creative with its pitching staff, and also keeps "things together when injuries happen or guys go through rough stretches or guys get fatigue from overuse."

More important to manager David Ross than any of that, though, was the fact that Sampson had the Cubs in position to snap St. Louis' long winning streak.

When Sampson exited Saturday's contest, the Cubs were clinging to a 4-3 lead after Lester lasted five frames against his former ballclub.

"Let's give him credit where credit's due," Ross said of Sampson. "It's not all about development all the time. It's about winning baseball games. We're in the big leagues. He's done a nice job. Every time he's taken the mound, he's given us a chance to win ballgames."

Sampson's 96-pitch performance allowed the Cubs to avoid taxing their bullpen. He struck out four, walked none, allowed two solo homers and continued his personal bid to remain on Chicago's '22 radar.

Since coming up from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 18, the 29-year-old Sampson has posted a 2.87 ERA. He has logged five relief outings and four starts. Across 31 1/3 innings, the righty has 21 strikeouts, six walks and a .235 opponents' average.

"Those pieces are integral to a successful pitching staff, right?" Hottovy said. "A guy who can pitch out of the bullpen, can make spot starts."

Sampson has a different way of summing up what he wants to offer the Cubs.

"I love having the ball," he said. "And I like having them pry it away from me. Regardless of if I come in out of the bullpen or start or whatever, no matter what, I want the ball. I feel like I can throw as long as I [want].

"Taking me out of the game is something that I want to make it hard for the manager to do."

Hottovy has loved having a pitcher with Sampson's attitude available for a variety of roles. When Sampson is in the bullpen, the righty does not request a clean inning or specific situations. For the rotation, Sampson has been ready at a moment's notice.

"That's a pitching coach's dream," Hottovy said, "to have guys that are willing to do that kind of stuff. And then to see him be successful through that process, too, is a lot of fun."

Looking ahead to next season, the Cubs will have a clear need for rotation depth and versatile swing arms. The North Siders plan on being active in free agency while giving internal arms like Alzolay, Steele and Thompson a shot at winning jobs in the spring.

Sampson, who pitched previously in the Majors with Seattle (2016) and Texas (2018-19) before spending '20 with the Lotte Giants in Korea, might be pitching himself into the mix.

Sampson does not blow hitters away with his arsenal -- his fastballs (sinker and four-seamer) sit around 92 mph and are balanced by a changeup, slider and occasional cutter -- but the righty has proven he can lean on reports and induce weak contact.

"It's just something I know how to do," Sampson said of starting. "And I'm pretty confident in myself."

Ross has taken notice.

"There's a lot to be said about that, just having confidence in yourself," Ross said. "It's just knowing who you are and executing pitches, knowing what he wants to do and going out there and succeeding."