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Justin Steele, Adrian Sampson placed on restricted list

The two pitchers are not vaccinated against COVID-19, so they will not be making the trip to Toronto.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs are traveling to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays and as per Canadian government rules, visitors to Canada must be vaccinated against COVID-19. (The United States has the same rule for non-citizen visitors to the USA.) Because of that, left-handed pitcher Justin Steele and right-hander Adrian Sampson will be placed on the restricted list and will not be making the trip.

While no official announcement has been made as of late Sunday night (when I wrote this) as to who will take the two pitchers’ places on the roster, multiple reports have said that left-handed reliever Brendon Little and right-handed reliever Jeremiah Estrada were with the team in Milwaukee on Sunday. Both Little and Estrada will be making their major league debuts.

Estrada as much as confirmed it on Twitter:

Little was the Cubs’ first-round draft pick (27th overall) in 2017. Over his first three years in the Cubs’ system, Little struggled as a starting pitcher. After the lost 2020 minor league season, the Cubs moved him to the bullpen where he has been much, much better. In 2021, Little made 26 appearances split evenly between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Over his 41⅔ innings that year, Little posted a 3.24 ERA with an 0-1 record and three saves. He struck out 53 batters and walked 19.

While Little’s 2022 stats might seem like a step back, in reality he had a bad month of May and has been excellent since then. While his overall record in 29 relief appearances for Iowa is 3-3 with one save and a 4.15 ERA, in 13 games since June 1, Little is 2-1 with one save and a 1.06 ERA. He’s held opposing hitters over the past three months to a .222 BA and has struck out 16 and walked just four over 17 innings.

Estrada was a sixth-round pick in the same draft year of 2017, but he signed for second-round money of a $1 million bonus. He soon needed Tommy John surgery and only pitched 17 innings in the minors before 2021.

But Estrada has been rocketing through the system since then. Pitching out of the bullpen, in 2021, Estrada made 11 relief appearances for Low-A Myrtle Beach. He posted a 1.57 ERA and struck out a whopping 38 batters in 23 innings while walking just six. But this year, Estrada started out in High-A South Bend and advanced all the way to Triple-A Iowa. In 34 appearances for those three teams, Estrada has posted a record of 3-2 with nine saves and an ERA of 1.30. Estrada has tossed 43 innings and struck out an eye-popping 78 batters while walking 20. He’s been even better in six innings with Triple-A Iowa. Estrada has not allowed a run, earned or otherwise, and has struck out 12 and walked just one batter.

Little and Estrada will not have to be added to the 40-man roster for this callup per MLB’s COVID-19 roster rules. However, both will have to be added at the end of the season or the team risks losing them in the Rule 5 draft.

Steele has been the Cubs’ ace this season, especially since the All-Star Break, but he left his last start on Friday with lower back tightness. While the Cubs have not placed him on the injured list, he might not have pitched in the Toronto series anyway.

Sampson started Sunday’s contest and definitely would not have pitched in Toronto. However, as Al noted in his recap, the Cubs pulled Sampson after 61 pitches and 3⅓ innings to allow the Cubs to place him on the restricted list for the trip to Canada, permitted per MLB’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols. That decision might have cost the Cubs Sunday’s game in Milwaukee, but it will give them an extra reliever for the Blue Jays series.

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