Sampson was in that role on Friday after Leclerc set the Cardinals down in order in the first, and he earned his first Major League win in the Rangers’ 7-3 victory at Globe Life Park. The Rangers have now won three straight after their first meeting against the Cardinals since the 2011 World Series.
The Rangers did all their damage in the second inning, with seven runs off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas. Rougned Odor had a three-run home run, and Shin-Soo Choo had a two-run shot.
Leclerc opened the game by getting Matt Carpenter on a grounder to second and then struck out Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong. Leclerc has made five appearances since being taken out of the closer’s role and has allowed one run on one hit and four walks with 10 strikeouts over six innings.
“I thought today was a good challenge for him, coming out and starting the game,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Something he has never done before. Facing the top of the lineup, best hitters. He came out, threw ball one, ball two, two pretty close pitches, and then he pretty much blew the rest of them away. The last couple of times out, he has been really good. Good to see.”
Sampson then carried the Rangers into the seventh, allowing two runs, one earned, over 5 1/3 innings. The first win came in his 10th appearance this season and 16th overall, including five last year and one start with the Mariners in 2016.
“It feels good,” Sampson said. “It took me long enough, you know? I’ve just been through a lot, between getting called up and where I’m at now. Anytime you pitch and it’s been a while, you start to think about it every inning. It was in my thoughts all the time. It’s good to just get it out of the way.”
The Rangers now have to ponder the best role for Sampson. He came up from Triple-A Nashville early in the season to be a starter but has been more effective as a reliever.
He now has a 1.42 ERA in five relief appearances, with opponents hitting .213 off him. He has a 7.64 ERA with opponents hitting .364 off him in his five starting assignments.
“Obviously today was more of a starting role, but yeah, there’s something to be said,” Woodward said. “It’s not that we don’t think he can start. We have to figure out what the issue is when he actually starts the game. Today he threw 5 1/3 innings, just like he was starting. Coming out of the bullpen, for some reason he had better results. I don’t know what it is, but we are going to obviously address it with him and see if there is something to it.”
Sampson left the game after allowing singles to Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader to start the seventh. Bader’s single was a line drive to center field, and Wong tried to take third. But center fielder Joey Gallo caught him with a powerful, on-target throw for his sixth outfield assist this season.
“I had a perfect view of it,” Sampson said. “Went to back up third. I saw him running to second. I was like, ‘Well, Joey’s about to get this ball and hunk it in there.' He’s got a hundred mile an hour arm. He threw it right on the money. Just fired me up. Would have loved to stay in the game, but I understand the situation of it. That was just an awesome play.”
Sampson gave way to Jesse Chavez, the Rangers' right-handed setup reliever who has enjoyed his own resurgence of late. Chavez logged 1 2/3 scoreless innings after taking over and has not allowed a run in his past six appearances and 7 2/3 innings. He had an 8.79 ERA in his first 13 appearances through the end of April.
Pitching updates: Volquez, Kelley
• The Rangers still have not activated reliever Shawn Kelley off the injured list. He has been sidelined with an infection, and Woodward said it will likely be a couple more days before he is ready. Kelley has been throwing on the side.
• Right-hander Edinson Volquez, who has been on the injured list since April 5 with a sprained right elbow, has been told his muscle is 95 percent better than from his first MRI, and there is no damage to the ligament. He will start playing catch in a few days, with the intention of pitching again for the Rangers this season.
• Right-hander Ariel Jurado will start on Saturday for the Rangers. Woodward considered using Chavez as an opener but couldn’t spare him from the back end with Kelley still not ready to return.