MILWAUKEE — Adrian Sampson handed off the baseball to Chicago Cubs manager David Ross, visibly unhappy at his removal.
Sampson had retired the first Milwaukee Brewers hitter in the fourth and mostly had held them in check. He allowed one run in the third when three consecutive batters in the heart of the Brewers lineup reached with two outs.
Otherwise, Sampson was trending toward what has become a typical start for the Cubs: keeping his team in the game and giving it a chance to win.
But Ross opted to bring in left-hander Sean Newcomb, who allowed six runs in one-plus innings Sunday in the Cubs’ 9-7 loss.
Ross cited the Brewers’ hard-hit balls off Sampson and traffic on the bases as his motivation to bring in Newcomb. Sampson acknowledged being surprised at the early hook, then added: “I always try to reiterate the same message. I want to stay out there as long as I can, so you’ve got to trust what’s going on and then just get ready five days later.”
Sampson’s short outing ends up benefiting the Cubs in their next series. He and left-hander Justin Steele won’t travel with the team to Toronto because they don’t meet Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements to enter the country. The same requirements are in place to return to the United States.
The Cubs will place Steele and Sampson on the restricted list before the three-game series against the Blue Jays begins Monday at the Rogers Centre.
After speaking with his family and friends, Steele said he decided he didn’t need to get the vaccine. He said he didn’t believe he would have made his start Wednesday anyway because of back tightness, which continues to improve.
Steele anticipates the soonest he would start is Friday in St. Louis. Ross previously indicated the Cubs would shuffle the rotation after a day off Thursday, and he was noncommittal on when Steele would next pitch.
The Cubs will be allowed to bring up a fully vaccinated replacement player for Steele. That player does’nt need to be on the 40-man roster; anyone recalled as a replacement player because of COVID-19-related roster issues can be returned without being optioned or designated for assignment.
Left-hander Brendon Little and right-hander Jeremiah Estrada were in the visitors clubhouse after Sunday’s loss as the Cubs prepared to leave for Toronto. The three-game series gives the Cubs an opportunity to look at Little and Estrada in the big leagues as 40-man roster decisions loom. Both players would need to be added to the 40-man roster if the organization wants to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in December.
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Estrada has struck out 40.4% of batters while posting a 1.30 ERA between High-A South Bend and Triple-A Iowa this year. Little, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2017, has a 4.15 ERA in 29 appearances for Iowa.
Before Sunday’s game, the Cubs were not expected to replace Sampson on the active roster because he was not scheduled to start in Toronto. According to MLB’s COVID-19 rules, starting pitchers who are not fully vaccinated and not lined up to start in their team’s series in Toronto cannot be replaced on the 26-man roster.
However, the Cubs are able to replace Sampson because he didn’t throw four consecutive innings in Sunday’s start.
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“I have no idea what the roster rules were,” Sampson said. “I’m not making the trip, which is unfortunate, but pitching the day before, I wouldn’t have pitched anyway. But I want to get the ball. I want to stay out there as long as you can. So that’s my whole mindset coming into today.”
Steele and Sampson will return to Chicago and rejoin the team in St. Louis for the weekend series against the Cardinals. Sampson said his decision not to get vaccinated was for personal reasons.
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“Kind of waiting to see as more info came out, and then the season comes along and it’s just like the last thing you want to think of,” Sampson said. “The timing of it worked out because I’m pitching (Sunday). 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.
“I think people should choose what you want to do and hopefully get some appreciation from one another and not look down on someone because of the decisions they made. But everyone’s been very accepting of people’s decisions here. It’s nice. You don’t feel like they’re trying to single you out or anything.”
Last year the Cubs were one of a handful of teams that failed to reach the 85% vaccination threshold for players and other on-field personnel in order to relax some COVID-19 restrictions.
“Time gives everybody a chance to form decisions,” Ross said of the team’s improved vaccination rate. “Information continues to come out about helping guys make the right decision.
“So, yeah, only two guys. You’d like it to be no one, but at the end of the day, we trusted everybody makes the best decision for them and it gives other guys opportunity as well.”