added 8/19/2009 by Bob Hulsey
Chris Sampson has always been an underdog. Born and raised in the industrial suburbs around Houston, he played college ball at Texas Tech, struggled as a minor league shortstop and decided to give up, realizing he wasn't a good enough hitter to make the majors.
Then, while working as a coach, he began to realize that maybe he could make a go of it as a pitcher. He called the Astros for a tryout, impressed Tim Purpura (who was then working the farms under General Manager Gerry Hunsicker) and returned to the minor leagues as a pitcher.
He worked his way up to the AAA level using a mid-range fastball, a biting slider and a deceiving sinker. Then, in 2006, he got his call to the big leagues and has been an Astro ever since. That is, until he was sent back down to AAA Round Rock the other day. It must have been quite a blow psychologically but Sampson already knows how to beat the odds. He's done it before.
To look at Sampson's current stat line would make you think he's had a disappointing year. In reality, he's had a terrible last few weeks which disguise what was, up until then, a tremendous season.
Between April 7th and July 9th, he had appeared in 40 games with a 4-1 record, three saves, and a 2.49 ERA. He allowed just 13 walks in 47 innings pitched. He'd become a dependable set-up guy to work the seventh or eighth inning. Along with LaTroy Hawkins, he had been a rock in the Houston bullpen while relievers Doug Brocail and Jose Valverde recovered from injuries.
The first sign of trouble may have been June 30th when he was rocked for three runs on four hits in a 4-1 loss at San Diego. It elevated his ERA for the season from 2.09 to 2.66. He gave up two more hits in his next outing at San Francisco and three hits in 2/3rds of an inning two days later against the Pirates.
Manager Cecil Cooper used him on July 10th, right before the All-Star Break, and he gave up four hits and two runs in the seventh to the Nationals, blowing a lead. He complained of a stiff shoulder and landed on the disabled list. The time off allowed Sampson to be with his wife, Heather, for the birth of their second child while the team was playing in Los Angeles.
Since his return, Sampson's pitching has been terrible. From July 10th, he's been in nine games with an 0-1 record, a blown save and an ERA of 19.44. He's given up 18 runs and eight walks in 8-1/3rd innings. His season ERA ballooned in just over a month's time to 5.04.
Although there was talk he was still in pain, Sampson insisted he was healthy. The Astros had little choice but to send him back to the minors.
We've seen several players whine and pout when they've been sent down this year. They speak in jock-tones about how shocked they were that they were being sent down.
Sampson was surprised too. But instead of whining, Sampson had a plan.
"There's probably a lot of business side of baseball that might be going on. I try not to worry about that," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm just trying to focus on what I need to focus on."
"I'm going to get ready for a fight to get back to the major leagues," he said. "I've been talking to Doug (Brocail). And I have a DVD of what he saw shipped to me. And we're going to watch the DVD with Burt Hooton."
Hooton is the pitching coach at Round Rock who used to be the pitching coach with the Astros under Larry Dierker and Jimy Williams. When Yorman Bazardo recently was called up from Round Rock, he acknowledged and thanked Hooton for putting his career back on the right path. Bazardo, though still 25, has pitched with five different organizations and was a surprise to be doing so well at Round Rock. Now, he's pitching for the Astros.
Sampson will be back with the Astros too because he's focusing on getting back instead of pouting about why he was sent down. He understands he doesn't have the raw talent to pitch in the majors. He has to be a master at his craft. With someone like Hooton in his corner, it will just be a matter of time before he returns to the form he showed during the first half of the season.