For Sammy Solís, the 2017 season didn’t really begin until the first week of August. It was then, after the slow start, after the long stint on the disabled list, and after the weird month with a dead arm, that the Nationals left-hander finally felt like himself. His ERA stood at 14.00. The reliable bullpen weapon that had posted a 2.41 mark in 2016 was nowhere to be seen. Then it reemerged.
“Good when I was good and bad when I was bad,” Solís said when asked to evaluate his campaign. “That’s kind of it.”
When Solis, whose professional career has been stained by various injuries, landed on the disabled list on April 19 with elbow inflammation, he had an 8.31 ERA and, the initial thinking went, a minor setback. But there was nerve damage, and it lingered. He was activated on July 1, but he wasn’t right. Everything was fine — his arm was healthy and his mechanics were sound — but his stuff lacked the usual zip. The velocity just wasn’t there. He needed more time.
“It’s hard to describe to people what it’s like to go out there trying to throw as hard as you can and it’s seven, eight miles per hour slower than it should be and trying to be effective with that as the highest level in the world,” Solis, 29, recently said at Nationals Winterfest. “Obviously, no excuses. I have to go out there and pitch better and stay healthy. But last season was definitely a learning process, and I’m just grateful to the Nats for sticking with me because they did.”
The Nationals stuck with Solís because he was so reliable in 2016 and, well, because there weren’t many other options from the left side. They were rewarded over the final two months of the regular season. Solís’s velocity rebounded and he posted a 1.59 ERA across 17 innings over his final 18 regular season appearances. He held opponents to a .388 OPS and struck out over a batter per inning.
The strong finish earned Solís a spot in the Nationals’ playoff bullpen — and the opportunity to pitch in big spots in the NLDS against the Cubs. After a perfect, eight-pitch, two-out appearance in Game 2, former manager Dusty Baker turned to Solís again in Game 3 to relieve Max Scherzer in the seventh inning with the Nationals holding on to a 1-0 edge. Solís surrendered consecutive hits, and the lead, before exiting without recording an out. He then allowed a run on two hits in one-third of an inning in Game 5.
“A couple bumps in the road in the playoffs,” Solís said. “But I think when I was healthy I was able to compete and compete with the best.”
Acquiring an impact left-handed reliever is not on the Nationals’ list of priorities this winter. General Manager Mike Rizzo has repeatedly stated he is content with the club’s stable of southpaws, anchored by closer Sean Doolittle. Oliver Perez — the veteran, rubber-armed left-hander — is a free agent and probably will move on to another team. That leaves Enny Romero, Matt Grace and Solís as the remaining left-handers battling for bullpen spots — and means Solís, whose splits against righties are better than most southpaws, will likely be relied upon to secure crucial outs.
Solís said he’s healthy and had already started throwing at the beginning of December in preparation for spring training, where he will seek to impress a new coaching staff and stay healthy. He has added more therapy to his regimen in hopes of staying healthy for the entire season. Health, he knows, is the difference.
“I have to prove that not only can I be effective,” Solís said, “but I have to prove I can be effective all season.”
Read more Nationals coverage: