By WILL GRAVES | AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Adrian Sampson wasn't supposed to be a fixture in the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation this season. He was placed on waivers twice in May — once by Chicago and once by Seattle — and optioned to the minors three times.
Yet Sampson kept believing in his stuff. And may be making a believer out of the Cubs in the process. The 30-year-old tossed six efficient innings in an 8-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday, the latest in a string of solid starts that's provided some much-needed stability to Chicago's injury-riddled rotation.
Sampson (3-5) is 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in five starts this month for the Cubs, who finished 5-2 on a seven-game road trip through Miami and Pittsburgh.
“It's just the culmination of a whole year of putting the pitches together," Sampson said after allowing four hits and striking out three without a walk. “Now I just kind of go out there every five, six days and I’m able to have confidence in every single one and throw them for strikes.”
Sampson took advantage of a young Pittsburgh lineup featuring five rookies and eight players 25 or younger. Mixing speeds and changing locations, he worked quickly and needed just 67 pitches to record 18 outs.
Not bad for a player who has spent a portion of this season bouncing around. Given the way he's performing, there may be a chance 2023 may be far more stable for Sampson, and maybe the Cubs.
Chicago is 32-29 since the All-Star break thanks in part to a patched-together rotation that has posted a 3.15 ERA over that span.
“Starting pitching really, really is important,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Good starting pitching really helps you play well, keeps you in ballgames ... Adrian's been a bi part of that.”
Patrick Wisdom took the first pitch he saw from Manny Bañuelos and sent it into the Pirates bullpen well behind the center-field wall with two outs in the fifth to stake Chicago to a 3-0 lead.
Wisdom became the fourth Cubs third baseman to reach the 25 home run-plateau in multiple seasons, joining Hall of Famer Ron Santo, Aramis Ramirez and Kris Bryant.
Esteban Quiroz, Ian Happ and Alfonso Rivas had two hits each for the Cubs.
Sampson's lone mistake came in the sixth, when he gave up a solo home run to Bryan Reynolds. Brandon Hughes got his seventh save when he came on with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth after the Pirates had chipped into a seven-run deficit against Erich Uelmen.
Hard-throwing rookie Luis Ortiz (0-1) took the loss in his third big-league start despite allowing just four runners in 4 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old, whose fastball regularly flirts with 100 mph, was removed after reaching his pitch-count max (80) while walking Zach McKinstry with two outs in the fourth.
Ortiz, who spent the majority of the season at Double-A Altoona, is making a compelling case he is ready to bid for spot in the starting rotation next spring. Ortiz was electric at times against Chicago, striking out seven against one hit and two walks. He narrowly missed out on an immaculate inning in the second when he struck out the side on 10 pitches, all 10 of them strikes.
“I really believe in just continuing to go out there, continue with the mindset of attacking the zone, executing good pitches, continuing to work hard,” Ortiz said through Pirates translator Mike Gonzalez. “ Those are the things that I can control, just going out there and giving my maximum, remaining positive and always giving my 100%.”
Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton removed Ortiz after his 80th pitch, a 3-1 fastball to McKinstry that missed badly, and Ortiz's ERA ticked up to 1.17 when Bañuelos couldn't get out of the inning.
Oneil Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes had two hits each for the Pirates (56-97), who have dropped nine of 10 and are in danger of losing 100 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since three in a row from 1952-54.
Pittsburgh's defense has taken a significant step back in 2022. A year after committing just 70 errors — second fewest in the majors — the Pirates has a major-league leading 112 errors after adding three more on Sunday, two each by Cruz at shortstop and catcher Jason Delay.
Cubs: Nico Hoerner went 1 for 5 as the designated hitter in his return to the lineup after missing nearly two weeks with tightness in his right triceps. Ross said Hoerner will return to his regular position at shortstop in the near future.
Cubs: Are off Monday then return home to face Philadelphia.
Pirates: Finish up a seven-game homestand with a three-game set against Cincinnati starting Monday. Chase Anderson (2-3, 5.21) starts for the Reds against Pittsburgh's Roansy Contreras (5-5, 3.68 ERA).
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