BRADENTON -- Jacob Stallings had the best seat while Adrian Sampson recorded his best start of the season Monday night.
Consequently, the Bradenton Marauders' catcher summed up Sampson's performance perfectly:
"He just kept getting people out."
On a muggy night at McKechnie Field, Sampson spun perhaps his best performance as a pro, tossing seven efficient innings as the Marauders defeated the Daytona Cubs 5-3.
Sampson may not have earned the win -- he came out an inning before Willy Garcia's two-out, three-run home run in the eighth gave the Marauders a lead they never relinquished -- but that was of no consequence.
In front of a crowd of 692 that included Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly, in town for this week's draft, the 21-year-old needed just 78 pitches to cruise through seven innings and retired the final 14 he faced.
The timing couldn't have been better: After spotting Daytona 2-1 lead after two, Sampson didn't allow a baserunner once Bradenton (23-34) squared the game in the bottom of the third.
"After those back-to-back one-run innings, I was talking to my catcher and I was like, 'Stalls, we need a shutdown inning right here,'" Sampson said. "That was my mentality every time. It felt really good and I got in a groove. And when a starter gets in a rhythm, and especially myself, when I get in a rhythm, I was throwing good pitches, down in the zone."
The Pirates' fifth-round pick in 2012, Sampson pitched to a 2.95 ERA in 11 appearances last season with the franchise's New York-Penn League team in State College. His jump to Bradenton hadn't been as seamless, however, as Sampson entered Monday with a 6.46 ERA in 47 1/3 innings.
But encouraged by what he was seeing from his bullpen sessions and side work, Sampson had a feeling a breakthrough was coming.
Monday, it did.
"It's a fact of eliminating mistakes and keeping the ball down in the zone, and maybe getting a little movement on it," Sampson said, "and just throw ground balls. It's just showing the work I'm doing and the mentality they want me to take into games is paying off. It's a huge boost."
Sampson's objective, which is to pitch to contact, was met Monday. He fanned just three -- including the final two batters he faced -- but didn't issue a walk and recorded 10 groundouts.
"We threw in more. Early, we threw in, but we kind of got away from it when they scored their couple of runs," said Stallings, Sampson's teammate last year at State College. "We just went back to it, and that's something that's really important in this organization. He threw his change-up really well -- I think we only threw two curveballs all night -- so obviously he had command of his fastball and change-up to do that.
"I don't think he was thinking about anything; he was just out there competing. Going back to last year when we were at State College together, that's when he's at his best -- when he just gets out there and competes."
Down 3-2 with two outs and none on in the eighth, the Marauders took the lead when singles by Dan Gamache and Jose Osuna set up Garcia's fifth homer of the year, a towering blast that landed on the boardwalk in right field.
The win went to reliever Ryan Beckman and Robbie Kilcrease pitched a perfect ninth for his third save in as many chances.
Sampson didn't factor into the decision. But he won't forget Monday's start anytime soon.
"It's awesome," he said. "This is my first full season and each time I go out there I'm feeling more and more comfortable. So this is just a huge building block for more to come."