The Washington Nationals acquired Jerry Blevins from the Oakland A's this winter, adding a left-hander to the bullpen after admitting that the lack of left-handed options was an issue last season. Xavier Cedeno had success facing left-handers late in the 2013 campaign, and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo has told reporters this winter he thinks the 27-year-old reliever earned the right to fight for a spot in the 2014 bullpen.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell has written previously that the Nationals were interested in adding another lefty this winter after acquiring Blevins, but with several of the free agent options getting multi-year deals from other teams, they never found that second left-hander that Matt Williams said he would ideally like to have in his 'pen.
"We like the club that we have right now, but we're always open to add to the roster if it benefits us," Rizzo told reporters in discussing the possibility of future moves Saturday at NatsFest in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center.
"I wouldn't say that we're actively looking to add anybody," he continued, "but we're certainly not going to turn our backs if opportunity knocks and we can get a value, we'll certainly look into it."
So will both Blevins and Cedeno make the Opening Day roster and give the Nationals the two lefties they want?
"I think you have to say, like last year, Mike said, 'Yeah, well we'd love to have a lefty, but our options may be not as good as all the righties at that point,'" Williams explained in his own separate conversation with the press on Saturday. "Every manager would love to have two lefties. We'll have to see how it works in Spring Training. What we can accomplish."
The Nats' GM explained earlier this winter that he thinks the organization is in much better shape this year in terms of left-handed options, and as he told reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, the Nationals have several in-house options in addition to Cedeno if they don't add another lefty. Ross Detwiler could end up in the bullpen if he loses out in the battle for the final spot in the rotation, and Rizzo threw out another name. "'You got some lefties like [Sammy] Solis who could go to the bullpen if he had to, if you needed him to,'" Rizzo told the WaPost reporter.
Solis, 25, returned from Tommy John surgery this past season to make 13 appearances, 12 as a starter for the High-A Potomac Nationals, posting a 3.43 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, 19 walks (2.97 BB/9) and 40 Ks (6.24 K/9) in 57 2/3 IP. The 6'5'' lefty, a 2010 2nd Round pick, then went to the Arizona Fall League for the third time, and put up a 2.17 ERA, a 2.48 FIP, seven walks (2.17 BB/9) and 29 Ks in 29 IP over which he had a 0.69 ERA against lefties.
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Baseball America ranked Solis, who was added to Washington's 40-Man roster this winter, 6th overall on their 2014 list of the Nationals' Top 10 Prospects, behind only Robbie Ray in the organization amongst left-handed pitchers. Ray was subsequently traded to the Detroit Tigers in the Doug Fister deal, leaving Solis as the highest-ranked lefty in the Nats' system.
Solis has just one relief appearance as a professional on his resume. He was, however, happy to entertain the possibility of pitching out of the bullpen in the majors this season when he spoke to reporters at NatsFest on Saturday and was asked if he'd be willing to pitch in relief if it would mean pitching in the majors.
"I'm willing to be shortstop if I have to," Solis joked. "Honestly, I think I'm finally ready to make an impact with the team. I'm just working hard, keeping my head down and let the front office make the decisions." The possibility is exciting for the young lefty though. "It's very exciting," he said. "My whole career it's been stop and go, stop and go, and now I think I'm 100% and finally ready."
The Nationals, and Mike Rizzo in particular, have talked before about working on moving Solis away from a spiked curve to a more traditional curve and post-Tommy John he said he finally got a feel for it this season. "I think the breaking ball for me was the hardest thing for me to find after surgery," Solis said. "And especially out in Fall League, I really developed it and it really came around and it was my most effective pitch. So, I'm excited to see how that turns out this year."
His success in his third stint in the AFL gave Solis even more confidence. "Third time was the charm for me," the lefty joked. "It was the third time out there and I had a lot of fun and I'm from Arizona, so playing in front of my family and friends, so it's a real laid-back deal, they treat you like a big leaguer, which is a lot of fun, so hopefully I get a little taste of that this year."
After getting drafted, being labeled a quick-to-the-majors-type, suffering the injury to his elbow and working his way back, Solis said he's now finally comfortable and confident that his surgically-repaired elbow is fine.
"I think just confidence-wise, it took so long to get over it," Solis admitted, "but now I feel no effects of the surgery, I feel more than 100% I would say, so I'm excited to see what happens."
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