Sammy Solis arrives, Matt Purke impresses and Gio Gonzalez gets pranked


Doug Fister and Chris Young — 162 inches of pitcher — get some work in. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

As Nationals pitchers cycled through bullpen sessions Monday afternoon, Sammy Solis certainly looked like he belonged. He towered over the coaches behind him with his burly, 6-foot-5 frame. His breaking ball boomeranged over the plate, and his fastball exploded into the catcher’s mitt. If he looked so comfortable, it might have been because he planned to be here much sooner.

“It just took so long to get here,” Solis said, smiling wide. “I felt like I was ready before, and my arm tore. It’s just cool being part of the team right now.”

The Nationals have had big plans for Solis since they drafted him with the first pick of the second round in 2010. At the outset of spring in 2012, Solis tore his ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery. Two years removed from the operation, Solis can participate in practice alongside the rest of his teammates. When asked about the ability to focus on pitching rather than rehab, Solis giggled.

“Even in fielding practice, it’s nice to not think about, is this going to hurt or not?” Solis said. “I actually have the confidence now to go out there and throw every ball with 100 percent confidence.”

It’s early, but Solis’s performance in his first major league camp has grabbed the attention of Nationals coaches and reminded officials why they have remained so high on him. After the workout, I asked Livan Hernandez if any of the young arms stood out to him. He gave two names: New lefty Felipe Rivero and Solis.

The Nationals have not made a final decision on how they will use Solis. He could end up in the minor leagues as starting depth. But the Nationals have also been open to letting him compete for a bullpen spot as a second lefty after Jerry Blevins. Solis has only reached Class A Potomac, but at 25 he has passed the point at which development trumps the ability to contribute.

“I’d like him to build up to a point where he can throw multiple innings if need be,” Williams said. “And he can start if need be. We’d like to get him to that point. … We’ll increase his innings and see where he ends up. There’s spots available and he’s going to compete for one of them.”

For the first time in two years, Solis had no restrictions during an offseason. Rather than getting healthy, he worked on his pitching. The largest improvement came in his breaking ball. Last year, Solis never had a feel for it. In his first two bullpen sessions, he said, “it looks like my best pitch.”

“It’s just the comfortability,” Solis said. “I feel like I can throw it for strikes. Anytime, I feel like I can throw it in there. Before, I was hesitant – because of my arm, and also because it just wasn’t there yet. I was throwing it [thinking], ‘Is this going to get hit or not?’ And now I think it’s a solid pitch.”

** Like Solis, fellow left-hander Matt Purke has rebounded from injury and started camp strong. Purke, 23, slung tailing fastballs and darting change-ups with his funky delivery. “That’s the best I’ve seen Purke,” Nationals assistant GM Bob Boone said.

** Nationals position players are scheduled to report tomorrow, but almost all of them have already arrived. The only three players yet to be spotted are Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Jeff Kobernus. Players will take physicals tomorrow, and the first full-squad workout will come Thursday.

** Prior to the Nationals’ morning team meeting, two video coordinators erected a projection screen at one end of the clubhouse. Stephen Strasburg paid close attention as it went up. Once all the pitchers and catchers sat and Williams entered, they showed this image of Gio Gonzalez, which Gonzalez had posted on his Instagram account the day before.

“I think it was good,” Williams said. “It was a little light-hearted moment in the meeting this morning. All of the sudden, I don’t know where it came from, but all of the sudden I had it via email.”

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · February 17

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