March 7, 2018 at 6:02 PM
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Sammy Solis has no options remaining. He does.
JUPITER, Fla. — After the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, Sammy Solis stood in the tiny tunnel outside the visitor’s clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium, pulling resistance bands back over his shoulders with his head on a swivel.
This was not the best time for Solis to be so engaged, as teammates and children and Nationals staff were shuffling in and out, packing up to head home. But Solis, who had allowed the go-ahead run in a lengthy eighth inning, can’t afford to wait. He has battled injury trouble before and lost May and June of last season to a nerve problem that stole feeling from his pitching hand at the most inopportune moments.
“I’m just being super proactive because I have to be just to make sure this thing is shut down and never comes back,” Solis said. “It’s funny because it took us all season; it wasn’t actually stemming in my elbow, it was stemming in my neck.”
Solis’s lengthy disabled list stint alleviated most of the symptoms of what he believed at the time was a nerve problem in his elbow. That the symptoms lifted was as encouraging as the fact that they reemerged down the stretch was troubling. Solis had Tommy John surgery in 2012. Anything remotely uncomfortable around that elbow presents cause for concern.
But after the season, after three outings in the National League Division Series during which he was still worried about that elbow, Solis went to see a specialist in Arizona — not a doctor, exactly, but more of “a naturopath,” he said. A family friend had seen this woman for bad back trouble and suddenly seen it dissipate.
“She was like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s nothing to do with your elbow.’ She was like feeling my body heat and was like, ‘Oh, no, it’s coming from up near your neck here,’ ” Solis said. “It was a little weird, but it actually worked out great. The first couple sessions, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is doing anything.’ Then it started going away.”
So now the 29-year-old is fully healthy, which is crucial because he is the only left-hander in the mix for the Opening Day bullpen that has options remaining. For years, the Nationals have considered Solis both an injury risk and a rare talent — a hard-throwing left-handed reliever with a vast starter’s arsenal. For years, injuries and inconsistency have left him nearer the roster bubble than anyone would like to admit. With Enny Romero, Matt Grace and perhaps even Tim Collins, among others, in the mix for a left-handed spot in the bullpen, Solis cannot afford to struggle, as he is the only one of the group that can be sent down. The Nationals would risk losing Grace or Romero to waivers if they tried to send them down, but could hold onto Solis by keeping him in Syracuse.
“Nothing’s ever guaranteed. There’s always a bump in the road in spring for someone. We’re not too far into this thing. We have a few more weeks left. We’ll see what happens,” Solis said. “But all I can say is we have some good lefties. We have a lot to pick from right now. It’s encouraging to have that many and that much talent to pick from. We’ll see what the coaches decide to run with when the season gets here.”
Again, to paint Solis as on any kind of bubble might be drastic. One of his greatest assets is his ability to get right-handed hitters out, as well as left-handers. He has held right-handers to a .228 batting average in his career and lefties a .244. Wednesday, he faced all right-handed hitters as he allowed a run on two hits. Results don’t matter much these days. The run Brandon Kintzler allowed, for example, shouldn’t be cause for trouble. Max Scherzer’s four strong innings should only be considered a sign that he is on track. Even the way the Nationals used Solis against five righties shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows — that was just his inning. Later, Manager Dave Martinez indicated, “We’re working on a few things against lefties,” but didn’t clarify further.
For now, Solis’s main objective is not to impress or blow anyone away this spring. It is to stay healthy, to keep that nerve problem at bay and to rebuild himself into the reliable late-inning option he has been, off and on, for much of the last three seasons.