Sammy Solis told reporters last winter that he didn’t expect much more than a late-season call-up in 2015, when the then-26-year-old Washington Nationals’ 2010 second round pick instead made his MLB debut in April, hung around in May, then returned for two more stints in the majors in July and September.
The experience, however, taught him something important.
"I learned that I can compete at that level,” Solis said.
“I had ups and downs for sure, but what rookie doesn't, I think. I'm just excited to go out there, show my stuff and hopefully, we'll see, God-willing, grab a spot."
After dealing with setbacks and injuries (including Tommy John surgery in 2012), Solis, who missed time in 2013 with a shoulder issue and 2014 with elbow soreness, came on strong in 2015 and made an impression in his time in the major league bullpen.
He finished the season healthy as well.
“I've never felt better than at the end of last season,” Solis said last December.
“I finished the year healthy which is very encouraging. So I'm feeling healthy now, feeling great and it's nice to be putting my feet up a little bit and not playing ball for a bit, just to let my body recover, but yeah, I'll be ready to go."
Though he didn’t make the Opening Day bullpen under new manager Dusty Baker, Solis impressed in Spring Training and came up in late April.
"I liked him in Spring, big time,” Baker told reporters after Solis was called up.
“I just heard that he was a converted starter, a guy that had some injuries in the past and [that was] the reason why they put him in the pen, and when he was good, he was very good, but it's hard to judge guys in the Spring, because you don't know, like I said, who's a fast starter and who's not, and you don't have scouting reports on the guys that you're facing.”
“Now we have reports, and things that we can help him with and he's been here before so it's not like he's going to be intimidated by the first time being in the big leagues. So he has a lot of positives going for him."
Solis stuck, remaining in the majors after he was brought up.
Over the four months that followed, before an injury in mid-August, the 28-year-old southpaw put up a 2.35 ERA, 20 walks (4.70 BB/9) and 44 Ks (10.33 K/0) in 38 1⁄3 IP, holding opposing hitters to a combined .219/.323/.299 line over that stretch.
Right knee soreness sidelined the left-hander, however, and kept Solis out of action until from mid-August until late September when he returned to the mound with a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 frame against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“He was awesome,” Baker said after that appearance. “He said he was ready and we threw him right in the fire and he showed us he was ready. The first pitch was I’m sure some nerves out there because he threw up and away, on the left-hander threw it up and in, and we were like, ‘Oh, no, please!’”
“Then after that he settled down and threw the ball where he wanted to throw it.”
Baker talked then about why he thought Solis was such an important part of his bullpen.
“He’s a huge boost, because he’s the one lefty in the bullpen that can get righties and lefties out equally, and so that’s big where you don’t have to change pitchers, and we’re not going to have all these pitchers when we get to the postseason, you’re going to have to let some righties face lefties and some lefties face righties, or else you’ll go through your whole bullpen and you play extra inning games then you’ll be out of pitching. And that’s huge, that’s big for us.”
Solis held right-handed hitters to a .218/.340/.299 line in 2016, and left-handed hitters to a .200/.273/.283 line, finishing the season with a 2.41 ERA, a 2.78 FIP, 21 walks (4.61 BB/9) and 47 Ks (10.32 K/9) in 37 games and 41 IP.
He also made his postseason debut, and appeared in all five games of the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up three hits and one earned run in 4 2⁄3 IP.
The one earned run came in Game 5, when he took the mound with the two on and one out in a 1-1 game and gave up an RBI single by Carlos Ruiz that put the Dodgers ahead in what ended up a 4-3 loss.
As of now, with the Hot Stove heating up, Solis is one of three left-handers on the 40-Man roster, along with Oliver Perez and Matt Grace. That will likely change before the start of Spring Training, but after a breakthrough season in 2016, Solis is set to play an important role in Dusty Baker’s bullpen, provided he can stay healthy.