The Nationals added a needed left-handed reliever, Jerry Blevins, this offseason and consider him, along with Xavier Cedeno, as the lead southpaws for the bullpen to start the season. Beyond them, the Nationals left-handed relief depth is weak. Tyler Roberston and Danny Rosenbaum have been invited to major league camp but neither has pitched past Class AAA. Should he not earn the fifth starter’s spot in spring training, Ross Detwiler could be a left-handed option out of the bullpen. Another possibility for depth is perhaps the most intriguing: Sammy Solis, one of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects.
General Manager Mike Rizzo floated the idea in November and it makes sense. The St. Louis Cardinals have used the bullpen as a means to break in some of their top young arms — such as Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly — before moving them to other roles. Giving Solis a taste of the majors this season could help his development and build needed left-handed depth.
Solis, 25, returned last season from Tommy John surgery and impressed team officials, making 12 starts for Class A Potomac. That may not be high in the minor league hierarchy given his age, but the Nationals have always viewed Solis, with his power sinker, as a fast riser. He pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and the Nationals have been bullish on his future.
“I’m willing to be shortstop if I have to,” Solis said at NatsFest on Saturday. “Honestly, I think I’m finally ready to make an impact with the team. I’m just working hard, keeping my head down and letting the front office make all the decisions … It’s up to the team. I’m a starting pitcher, but I’ll relieve, catch, whatever.”
Solis hasn’t pitched in relief since his freshman season at the University of
ArizonaSan Diego. Relief pitching is a different beast than starting but Solis, again, is willing to do whatever is necessary to make the team and help. “It’s a little different but at the same time it’s exciting,” he said.
Solis logged only 59 2/3 innings in 2013, his first season back from elbow surgery. He posted a 3.43 ERA at Potomac and a less-than-stellar 2.11 K/BB rate and was set back by a minor shoulder injury. But during his rehab, the 6-foot-5 left-hander said he filled out his body with more muscle. By June in Potomac, he was already near the mid-90s on the radar gun, close to his pre-surgery form.
“The breaking ball for me was the hardest thing to find after surgery, especially out in the fall league it really came around and I was able to develop it and it was my most effective pitch,” he said. “I’m excited to see how it turns out this year.”
In the Arizona Fall League, Solis did some of his best work. He posted a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings spread over seven starts. He struck out 29 batters and walked only seven. His pitching improved.
“The third time was the charm for me,” he said. “Third time out there and I had a lot of fun. I’m from Arizona so playing in front of my family and friends, it’s a laid-back deal. They treat you like a big leaguer which is a lot of fun. Hopefully I can get a little taste of that this year.”
Solis isn’t sure whether he will have any restrictions or workload limits this season, but insists that his body and arm are ready for anything. A likely scenario could have Solis starting the season at Class AA Harrisburg and advancing quickly. Should the Nationals’ bullpen and left-handers struggle, Solis could get the call. The Nationals showed a willingness to dip into Class AA for pitching last season.
“As of now, I feel ready to go, 100 percent,” Solis said.