Sampson strong on mound

Curve pitcher Adrian Sampson did not have a good year at Single-A in 2013, but he’s been one of the biggest surprises in the Eastern League so far this season.

He showed why Tuesday night.

Sampson tossed six shutout innings, allowed only four hits and tied a career high with seven strikeouts against Harrisburg. Altoona’s offense came through with a second straight impressive outing in a 7-0 win before 2,025 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“I have so much confidence right now,” said Sampson, who lowered his ERA to 1.17, which ranks third in the EL, and ran his scoreless innings streak to 12.

All of Sampson’s numbers so far are impressive. He has 23 strikeouts to only six walks and has given up just 15 hits in 23 innings, for a stellar WHIP of only 0.91. The victory Tuesday also gave him a 3-1 record.

None of what he’s doing could have been predicted by looking at his numbers from Bradenton a year ago.

Sampson went 5-8 for the Marauders with a 5.14 ERA. He also gave up a ton of hits – 177 in 140 innings – and despite a very low walk total (22), he had a very high 1.421 WHIP.

The numbers, though, don’t tell the story.

“I learned a lot last year,” Sampson said. “[The Pirates] took away my curveball and my changeup last year and just had me throw fastballs most of the time. That taught me how to pitch to get guys off the plate, pitch the ball away, get groundballs and get angles.”

In essence, Sampson was learning the things that would help him become more successful, even while his stats ballooned.

The ups and downs of the season also played a role in his struggles. So he came into this year with the goal of staying focused, more even-keeled mentally and not get too high or too low.

So far, he hasn’t had anything to get down about.

“More maturity is the only thing I can think,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said of Sampson’s success. “I hadn’t seen the kid. I know he has the stuff to be able to put up good numbers. Right now, he and [Nick] Kingham are the ones you can say give us an opportunity to win every time they start the game.”

Sampson underwent Tommy John surgery at an early age – just 17, after his junior year of high school – and said that kind of adversity “kind of just builds you, and you’ve got to know who you are.”

“When you get broken down off the field, it kind of helps everything when you’re on the field,” he added.

A fifth-round draft pick in 2012, he began his career at short-season State College that summer. The Pirates then let him skip low-A ball and go directly to high-A Bradenton last year.

“I had no idea how to succeed in that kind of level,” Sampson said.

But he grinded it out, learned what he could from pitching coach Justin Meccage, who also was with him at State College, and began to develop a good changeup toward the end of last season. The fastball command he was forced to learn coupled with better offspeed stuff has made him a much more effective pitcher in a short period of time.?”I like the fastball, I like the breaking ball, and I like the way he attacks the hitters and establishes his fastball,” Garcia said.

Stetson Allie had his best game of the young season for the Curve, going 3-for-5 to raise his average to .250. He also belted his third homer, an opposite field shot in the fourth inning.

“He’s a guy, he doesn’t need to pull the ball to hit it out of the ballpark,” Garcia said of the young slugger. “If he continues to trust himself and let the ball travel and put a good swing on it, he has enough power to hit it over the right field fence.”

Harrisburg starter Felipe Rivero (0-4) gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings for the loss. Senators manager Brian Daubach was ejected in the second inning for arguing a call on the basepaths.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key players: RHP Adrian Sampson pitched six shutout innings for the Curve, while SS Alen Hanson and 1B Stetson Allie each went 3-for-5.

Key play: Mel Rojas Jr. had a two-run single in the second inning to help Altoona take control with a 4-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve have scored 17 runs on 28 hits the past two games.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 1st: Hanson singled, scored on Ngoepe double (1-0).

Bottom 2nd: Cunningham singled, scored on Hanson single (2-0); Maggi singled, scored along with Hanson on Rojas Jr. single (4-0).

Bottom 4th: Hanson tripled, scored on Ngoepe sacrifice fly (5-0); Allie solo homer (6-0).

Bottom 6th: Ngoepe singled, scored on Rojas groundout (7-0).