WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sammy Solis didn’t see this coming, even though his standing with the Washington Nationals was shaky after he failed to do his job for much of last season. It seemed as if he still had a shot to make the Nationals this year — all the way up until the organization told him otherwise.
The Nationals unconditionally released the 30-year-old reliever Saturday afternoon, ending his tenure with the only major league franchise he has ever known. Solis didn’t search for a reason right away. The Nationals didn’t give him one, and he was okay with that. He just shifted his attention to moving on.
“I feel healthy. It’s tough to find a reason right now. But that’s not really what I’m concerned with at this point,” Solis said. “I’m just kind of ready to move on now. I shook [Manager Dave Martinez’s] hand, thanked him for everything. Now let’s go find somebody else.”
By releasing Solis on Saturday, the Nationals will be required to pay only one-sixth of his salary for 2019. Solis agreed to a one-year, $850,000 deal at the end of November, so the Nationals will owe him $142,000. They otherwise save money and will piece together a bullpen without Solis. The Nationals drafted Solis with the first pick of the second round in 2010, groomed him into a lefty specialist and then watched him get knocked around by left-handed hitters throughout last year.
That left Solis, a candidate to become a non-tender free agent at the end of last season, to doubt his future with Washington. The Nationals instead gave him another chance that burned out with the regular season just 19 days away.
“For me, it was more about giving Sammy an opportunity to latch on with another team,” Martinez said Saturday. “Get a chance, if he does, have a spring training elsewhere. I’ve always liked Sammy, as you guys know, but for me I didn’t really feel like at this point in time that he was going to make the team. So I thought it would be best if he had an opportunity to go somewhere else to make the team.”
“It’s tough, especially being so fresh. I mean, 30 minutes ago I had a job, and now I don’t,” said Solis, whose locker was cleaned out 30 minutes after that. “It’s just the way it works. Those guys are like brothers to me. I’ve been with some of them — [Matt] Grace and [Aaron] Barrett and Michael Taylor — for almost 10 years. Tough saying goodbye to those guys. But I’ll see them from another dugout, I’m sure.”
Solis appeared in a career-high 56 games last season but finished with a career-worst 6.41 ERA, allowing 28 runs in 39⅓ innings. Even more concerning were his numbers against left-handed batters, the ones he is expected to get out: They had a .993 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against him with five home runs, two doubles and two triples in 88 matchups in 2018. Part of the Nationals’ reasoning for signing Solis in November was that he has had success against lefties in the past. He believed that could translate to future results.
But the Nationals didn’t see a place for him in this year’s bullpen as the season approached, giving him four spring training appearances to confirm that belief.
“I really felt like I let the team down, let the city down and let myself down,” Solis said of last season in a February interview. “And I believe that will change because there is past evidence that I can be much, much better than I was in 2018. You have to believe that.”
Now Solis hopes to prove that with another team while the Nationals confront two pressing bullpen questions: Who is in it? And how many lefties will it include?
They are expected to carry seven relievers on their 25-man roster, and the locks appear to be Sean Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Matt Grace and Wander Suero. Justin Miller is recovering from a muscle strain in his lower back, and Martinez said recently that he will make the team if healthy. Koda Glover is sidelined with a forearm strain, and there is currently no timetable for his return. There are just two lefties in that entire group — Doolittle and Grace — and Doolittle can’t be used in matchup situations because he is the Nationals’ closer.
When asked whether the bullpen needs three left-handed pitchers, Martinez cited Rosenthal’s and Suero’s past successes against lefties as two reasons why it doesn’t. He also mentioned Vidal Nuno, a veteran lefty who has impressed him this spring, as a possibility. Nuno, 31, signed a minor league deal that will pay him $1.3 million if he makes the majors. He can opt out of his contract on March 27 or June 15 if he is not on the 25-man roster, according to a person with knowledge of his deal, and now seems to have a better chance at pitching for the Nationals this season. He had a 1.64 ERA in 33 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays last year and made eight appearances of two innings or longer.
Washington will need a long man to back up Jeremy Hellickson if he remains a two-times-through-the-order starter. They also could need another lefty now that Solis is gone.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s got a multitude of pitches that he can get people out with,” Martinez said of Nuno. “I mean lefties, righties, he’s not afraid of pitching in. I like him. His presence on the mound is good. He attacks the strike zone. I really like what I see so far."
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