Adrian Sampson continues to show he’s not just a ‘fill-in’ for Cubs pitching staff
Front office decision-makers around Major League Baseball know they need to rely on more than just five starting pitchers over the course of a given season, constantly preaching the importance of rotation depth.
Adrian Sampson embodies that “depth” perfectly.
The veteran right-hander wasn’t on the Cubs’ radar entering either of the last two seasons but he has ended up filling an important role on the pitching staff.
This year, Sampson ranks 6th on the Cubs pitching staff in innings (76.2) and over the last three months, he’s been the anchor of the staff.
Since June 19, here is the Cubs leaderboard in innings pitched:
1. Adrian Sampson – 75.2
2. Marcus Stroman – 61.1
3. Justin Steele – 60
4. Keegan Thompson – 49.1
5. Drew Smyly – 48.2
“I always reiterate I want the ball as long as I can, as long as [manager David] Rossy keeps giving me the ball,” Sampson said. “I find a little pride in the fact that I can throw as many innings as I am now. … I feel like I’m on a good roll.”
Sampson answered the call again Thursday, tossing 6 shutout innings before giving up a leadoff homer in the 7th. He has now allowed 2 runs or less in 5 of his last 6 starts and continues to provide solid innings for this Cubs team.
Since the start of last season, Sampson has a 3.45 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 112 innings for the Cubs working mostly out of the rotation (19 starts) but also slotting in as a reliever (7 games).
“Adrian’s done a really nice job of filling in for us,” Ross said. “I think my favorite thing about him is every time he’s had to fill in — last year, this year — it doesn’t feel like a fill-in. He’s going out there competing at a really high level, throwing strikes.
“I don’t think he pictures himself as a fill-in. The competitiveness in him and the confidence in himself and the stuff shows out there. He knows he deserves to be out there and has earned that and continues to pitch like that.”
This season, Sampson has been designated for assignment twice (once by the Cubs and once by the Mariners) and optioned to the minors three separate times. He was claimed on waivers by the Mariners in May and when Seattle sent him to the minors, Sampson opted for free agency and wound up signing back with the Cubs.
Entering the season, the Cubs envisioned a starting rotation of Kyle Hendricks, Stroman, Smyly, Steele and Wade Miley. But all five players have spent time on the IL this season and Thompson is also currently sidelined with a low back injury.
Meanwhile, Sampson continues to do his thing.
“He’s been really consistent,” Ian Happ said. “He’s done a good job of taking the ball every five days, going out there, filling up the zone and giving us a chance to win all the time. … He’s been a huge, huge lift for us in the middle of the year.”
The 30-year-old pitched 125.1 innings with the Texas Rangers in 2019 and then spent 2020 playing in Korea. He signed a minor league deal with the Cubs prior to last season and credits the organization with helping to revamp his repertoire and maximize his potential.
“My stuff wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” Sampson said. “It kind of showed that on the analytics side. But we put the work in with the coaches and kinda changed everything.
“Now that I’m very comfortable with what I throw, I have an idea of what is making me successful.”
As for what comes next, Sampson isn’t trying to get too far ahead of himself. He knows he’s pitching for a roster spot in 2023 and he’s trying to make the most of his opportunity.
“Heaven on Earth is pitching at Wrigley Field on a day like today,” Sampson said. “70s, beautiful weather out, blue skies, always great fans. It’s very tough to beat.
“I feel very comfortable out there. I’m just enjoying every single moment I have out there.”