The Padres' No. 8 prospect allowed one hit and one walk over six innings Tuesday as the Double-A San Antonio Missions blanked the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, 2-0.
"I was coming off a long rest after the All-Star break," Sampson said. "I threw the third-to-last game, so I had eight, nine, 10 days rest with only one bullpen [session], so they didn't want to leave me out there too long tonight for my health's sake. They wanted me to get back in the groove.
The 21-year-old right-hander did just that, retiring the side in order in the opening inning and striking out Alex McClure to strand two runners in scoring position in the second.
"It was very important," Sampson said of fanning McClure. "You don't want to be the first team to give up a run, so in that situation I had to jump up myself and get the big out when I needed it."
The punchout was the first of 10 consecutive Naturals set down by Sampson (4-7), a streak that ended when Julio Rodriguez was hit by a pitch leading off the sixth.
Northwest Arkansas was unable to make anything of the opportunity, and Sampson got through the inning unscathed before turning over a 1-0 lead to the bullpen.
"I got ahead of hitters early, which helped," said Sampson, the Padres' Organizational Pitcher of the Year in 2011. "My curveball wasn't really there, but my fastball and changeup were on the whole night.
"I was rushing my curveball a little bit and I wasn't getting out in front of it. I was throwing it from behind my head. My fastball was a little bit down, maybe 88-92 instead of 92-96, but that is what you have to do when you're not feeling your best."
The win shaved nearly half a run off Sampson's ERA to 5.45. That's the lowest it's been since the end of May.
The outing was the first in 11 days for the Florida native, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft. Sampson picked up the loss in five consecutive starts between May 19 and June 12.
"My first half was a little rough, especially on the road," said Sampson, who hit a batter, uncorked a wild pitch and threw 49 of 77 pitches for strikes. "I wasn't able to stop games from snowballing on me. That was the biggest issue.
"When there are runners in scoring position or on third [base], that's when it's time to man up and get the job done and not give up hits. I have to stay ahead of hitters and stay aggressive. I don't need to be too fine, hitting the corners or riding the black, I just need to challenge hitters."
Tom Layne followed Sampson to the mound and pitched around a hit and a walk over 1 1/3 innings. Michael Broadway retired both batters he faced and Jeremy McBryde struck out one in a perfect ninth inning to complete the two-hitter and earn his eighth save.
San Antonio leadoff hitter Dean Anna went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and was the only player on either team to record a multi-hit game.
Naturals starter Ethan Hollingsworth (0-4) allowed one run on six hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings.