Sammy Solis tied his previous season high for appearances on May 29th, when he took the mound for the 30th time in 2018. He was up to 36 appearances heading into Friday night’s series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies in Nationals Park.
Things have settled down for Washington’s 29-year-old left-hander, but for a while there, he was taking the mound every time you turned around, with his first 30 appearances coming over the Nationals’ first 54 games.
There were two ways to look at it, of course. One way? He was healthy after years of dealing with a variety of injuries, so he was able to take the mound as often as he did. But the early-season appearances were piling up quickly.
“It wasn’t concern, because I felt good,” Solis said on Friday afternoon, four days removed from his last trip to the mound.
“It was a little over-use at a certain point,” he acknowledged.
“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 4-6, 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.”
With Matt Grace, who missed significant time with a groin injury back in the big league ‘pen and lefty Tim Collins on the major league roster, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez hasn’t been forced to turn to Solis often as he did early in his first season on the bench in D.C.
“Obviously with Grace going down early that was tough,” Solis said, “... and we started the year with four lefties in the pen including [Sean] 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, because 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.”
The addition of Kelvin Herrera, GM Mike Rizzo explained, was at least in part a response to the burden the Nationals’ bullpen carried throughout the first few months of the season.
Solis said it was a welcome addition for a number of reasons, including the fact that the veteran right-hander gave the Nationals a loaded relief corps.
“It’s huge,” Solis said. “Any time you get a veteran guy, I mean, power arm, obviously, got a World Series ring, he’s been there, he’s been in the trenches, grinding away at the postseason, that kind of thing. That’s what you want out of a guy, especially this point in the season when we could use a little pick-me-up. So, we’re just happy to have another arm down there. We’re carrying a heavy load right now in the pen, but the more the better really at this point, because there is a lot of work to go around right now.”
With all the arms that are available out of the bullpen right now, he hasn’t been told what role he’ll fill, though there are usage patterns developing as Martinez sorts things out.
“Right now what it seems to be is later in games, close game, maybe we’re one behind,” Solis explained. “Maybe we’re one up with a lefty coming up in the order seems to be it.”
“But I’ve also had success against righties, my splits are pretty good, so they can use me really however they want at this point, and I’m open to it.”
On the season he had a .184/.245/.327 line against vs left-handers and a .231/.375/.359 line against vs right-handed batters heading into Friday’s game.
His success against left and right-handers, he said, was a result of the time he spent as a starter before converting to relief work full-time when he came up to the majors.
“I was a starter my entire career, until 2015, when I came up here,” Solis said, “so you don’t get to choose, and I’m just as comfortable seeing a right in the box as a lefty, maybe even more comfortable, 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.”
Now that he has a track record, in the majors, the trust of his manager and coaches, with whom he has open lines of communication, and other lefties with him in the bullpen, he said he’s also more comfortable admitting when he needs a rest, something that wasn’t always the case, especially early in his time with the Nationals.
“As a rookie in  was when I dealt with a shoulder injury, I’d torn my rotator cuff, but I didn’t say anything for the first three weeks up here, getting to the point where I couldn’t even play catch,” Solis recalled.
“And then I’d try to get it going for the game, just because I didn’t think I could say anything, because you don’t want to be the guy coming in, I’ve got two days in the big leagues and now I’m hurt, so I’ve definitely learned when to say something, when to push through something, because sometimes it just is a sore arm and you can push through it, other times you definitely need a day.”
Martinez has explained that he talks to all his relievers before each game, and wants them to tell him the truth about how they’re feeling and what they have to offer every night, and that is something Solis said makes the whole process a lot easier.
“We’ll let him know when we need a day, we really will, and he’s completely open to that.
“Now that we have such a heavy pen it’s okay. If I’m like, ‘Hey, I need a day,’ we have Grace and Collins to back me up on the left-handed side, so it’s not a big deal when someone is hurting a little bit and needs some time.”
Solis was the third lefty out of the pen on Friday night, following Collins and Grace, and he gave up two walks and a single that loaded the bases before a hot-shot to second went off Wilmer Difo’s glove and brought in two runs, 10-2, before a wild pitch allowed a third run to score, 11-2, in what ended up a 12-2 loss.
They really should get him out there more often so he can stay sharp...