Sammy Solis passed his previous season-high for appearances in a season in late June of 2018, when he took the mound for the 38th time in the first 76 games for the Washington Nationals.
Before he gave up five earned runs in two innings in back-to-back outings against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 22-24, Solis had put up a 3.28 ERA, 12 walks, 29 Ks, and a .205/.307/.341 line against in 24 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Solis talked in advance of that June 22nd outing about the appearances piling up over the first three months. He wasn’t too concerned.
“It wasn’t a concern,” he explained, “because I felt good. It was a little over-use at a certain point, I remember coming out of the pen and my first pitch of the game, I don’t know when this was, but I was, I want to say 90-91, typically when I feeling good I’m [94-96], so there was a little fatigue there, no pain or anything like that, just fatigue, but that’s baseball, and when you have to pick up the slack with an injury, that’s just what happens. I don’t blame them for that, obviously, that’s just the name of the game right now.”
After starting the season with four relievers, the Nationals were down to two early, when Matt Grace was injured and Enny Romero was DFA’d, so Solis was called upon often, in a variety of situations.
“Obviously with Grace going down early that was tough,” Solis said, “... and we started the year with four lefties in the pen including Doolittle, and then we got down to just me and Doolittle for a while, which made it tough because I had to pick up the slack, cause obviously he’s set in his role and he’s not going anywhere. Yeah, having to pick up the, ‘Hey we’re matching up against a lefty.’ ‘We need an inning-plus.’ ‘We need two innings here.’ That type of thing. It made it tougher, but at the same time, I’ve done all of those things in the past, so my ability as a reliever is more versatile than just a lefty specialist, so I was open to it, and I was ready for it, and now it actually helps me out because I feel a little better, I built up some arm strength, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”
Following the rough outings against the Phillies, however, and two more against the Nats’ NL East rivals from Philadelphia in which he threw 1 1⁄3 scoreless, Solis was optioned out.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Solis told reporters after he was sent to Triple-A to make room on the roster for starter Jeremy Hellickson on June 30th.
“Obviously, workload was heavy,” Solis said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes.
“We started the year with four lefties in the pen that included Doolittle and got down to just me and Doolittle for a little bit. So I picked up the slack, and there were days I didn’t feel great, a lot of days I didn’t feel great, but the team needed it so I’d throw myself out there. [Velocity is] down a little bit right now — I think that’s residual exhaustion from that workload — but I still feel fine. There’s just not much to say at this point.”
“Obviously I need some time to cool down,” the reliever added. “It is never fun getting sent down, especially when you laid it all on the line. Hopefully I will be back sooner rather than later.”
“It was very tough,” Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez said when he was asked about having to break the news to the lefty.
“I am a big Solis fan. Hopefully he will be back here soon. I want him to get reps against left-handed hitters. We just want him to work on some stuff and get lefties out. There are a lot of other options we have. I know he is going to do down there and work.”
“You can always get better doing something,” Solis told the WaPost’s reporter. “So maybe attacking lefties a little more is something I’m going to work on. Lefties have a little more comfortable approach based on the numbers against me than righties do, so I can work on that, I guess. But for now, not too happy.”
Left-handed hitters had a .245 AVG against Solis to that point, with three home runs, while right-handed hitters had a .184 AVG before he was sent down.
“I’m just as comfortable seeing a righty in the box as a lefty, maybe even more comfortable,” Solis had said a week earlier when asked about his splits, “... just because my stuff plays a little bit more as far as using every pitch that I have. Lefties, you tend to shy away from the changeup a little, but I can add that pitch into the mix with a righty.”
Solis returned to the major league bullpen on July 22nd, and struggled over the weeks that followed, with 12 hits and six earned runs allowed over 6 1⁄3 IP in 10 appearances before he was optioned to Triple-A again on August 13th.
He returned to the Nationals’ bullpen in September, but gave up runs in five of his last six appearances down the stretch, including in each of his last five, with four of eight runs he allowed coming in one inning of work on the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“For me it’s — there’s a couple of things and I’m going to talk to him tomorrow,” Martinez said after the Nationals’ loss to the Cards.
“I need to talk to him tomorrow, because he’s got good stuff, but he needs to start making some adjustments. But a lot of times he falls behind, his breaking ball’s just — he’s got a good fastball and when he throws his fastball over the plate, they swing and miss.”
Martinez talked to the left-hander again after Solis’s final outing of the season on the 28th of September, which saw him surrender a home run on a 3-2 pitch to the only batter he faced.
“I told him I’m not giving up on him and he knows that,” Martinez said. “I said you’ve got one guy to get out. When you fall behind, 3-2, big league hitters, especially a guy that’s been hot, good chance he’s going to hit the ball hard somewhere. But Sammy early in the year helped us win a lot of big games, and then he kind of lost it a little bit, but I’m not going to give up on him, I’m not.”
“I think now he’s just frustrated. He’s just got to home this winter and kind of regroup and understand who he is and come back ready to go in the Spring.”
Solis finished the year with a 6.41 ERA over 39 1⁄3 IP, 18 walks (4.12 BB/9), 44 Ks (10.07 K/9), and a .277/.367/.490 line against overall, .329/.398/.595 vs left-handed and .224/.337/.382 vs right-handed hitters.