Cubs prospects Little, Estrada join staff for Toronto series originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
MILWAUKEE — No shots for Adrian Sampson and Justin Steele have meant the unexpected shots of a lifetime for two Cubs’ pitching prospects this week — with a little maneuvering Sunday to assure the max benefit for the team.
That’s just one way the Cubs engineered a best-case scenario for their roster heading to Toronto compared to many other teams this year (beyond the obvious fact that game outcomes are irrelevant to them).
Cubs pitchers Sampson — Sunday’s starter in Milwaukee — and Steele will go on the restricted list for the upcoming series in Toronto, the team said Sunday, because of Canada’s ban on non-vaccinated visitors to the country.
And while the Cubs aren’t expected to announce their replacements on the roster until Monday, Triple-A relievers Jeremiah Estrada and Brendon Little both were in the clubhouse after Sunday’s 9-7 loss to the Brewers, ahead of the charter to Toronto.
“Congratulations,” one clubhouse wag said to Estrada as he walked past, eliciting a quizzical look from the 2017 sixth-round draft pick.
Little was a first-rounder in the same draft. Neither is on the 40-man roster, a requirement for the active roster waived under rules of COVID-19-related temporary roster replacements.
If they both pitch in the series, they will be the second and third Cubs to make their debuts this season without being on the 40-man roster, joining reliever Brandon Hughes, who debuted in May as a non-roster COVID IL replacement player (before he earned an extended stay and was added to the 40-man).
The Cubs assured the ability to fill both restricted players’ spots for the Blue Jays series by pulling Sampson from the start before he had completed four innings — the threshold at which he would have been deemed, by rule, to be a starting pitcher already unavailable to pitch in the series and consequently ineligible to be replaced on the roster.
Sampson was replaced after retiring the first batter faced in the fourth inning, leading 2-1, with 61 pitches thrown.
With four straight lefties due up for the Brewers at that point, left-hander Sean Newcomb was brought in to replace Sampson and all four quickly scored — the last two on a Christian Yelich home run.
As for how much the COVID roster rules played into the pitching-change decision, manager David Ross said: “We’ll be able to have some decisions to make today. We’re not making any right now.”
Little and Estrada were in the clubhouse as Ross spoke.
Sampson, who didn’t seem especially fazed by the early hook, said he didn’t anticipate the early move based on any roster considerations.
“I have no idea what the roster rules were,” he said. “As you guys know, I’m not making the trip [to Toronto], which is unfortunate. But pitching the day before, I wouldn’t have pitched anyway. When I get the ball I want to stay out there as long as I can. That’s my whole mindset coming into today.”
In fact, by the time restricted-list decisions for Toronto had to be made, the Cubs had only two ineligible players on the active roster, both starting pitchers and both unlikely to pitch in Toronto.
Steele, who left his start Friday because of back soreness, theoretically would have been scheduled for Wednesday.
But he said after the game Sunday that wasn’t going to be the case regardless of his vax status and eligibility for the Canada trip.
“At the earliest I was probably going to pitch [next] in St. Louis, the first game in St. Louis,” he said of Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals, “just depending on the back. It’s still kind of day-to-day. But it’s definitely feeling better.”
Could have been worse for the Cubs?
The Kansas City Royals — whose games have been meaningless since May — faced a roster nightmare on their trip to Toronto, with 10 players ineligible because of vax status.
The Cubs couldn’t have scripted a better outcome — even the parts they didn’t script.
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