Nationals left-hander Sammy Solis says his month in the Arizona Fall League has been an invaluable experience and he has learned a lot, even from a recent rough outing. More importantly, Solis has been taught a new pitch to add to his other three potent pitches.
On October 28 versus Surprise, Solis went five innings, allowed eight hits, five runs (two of which were earned), one home run, one walk and three strikeouts. Solis says it was one of those games where the opposition was just clicking.
"The competition (in the Arizona Fall League) is tremendous," Solis said. "These guys can hit anything. My stuff wasn't bad. I gave up 8 hits but there were 4 errors. It was hard to get into a rhythm. The credit goes to the hitters. Two of the earned runs were on the homer. I wasn't too disappointed."
Overall in three starts, Solis has a 5.40 ERA over 11.2 innings, 14 hits, 10 runs, 7 earned, one homer, five walks and seven strikeouts.
Even with his last outing, Solis believes this entire experience has been valuable for his growth into a major league starting pitcher.
"I absolutely feel I can compete at his level," he said. "I feel like I have the same stuff as these guys I am facing. This is a completely different ballgame than the GCL (Gulf Coast League). It is just tougher mentally and physically."
Solis says the step from instructional league to Arizona was the best next move in his career and will really help him when spring training and the 2011 season arrive.
"I am glad I got thrown into it this way," Solis said. "The GCL is mostly 17 and 18 year old guys who are good, but the AFL is just a different league, more mature players physically and experience-wise."
"I am the same age as a lot of the guys in Arizona, so this is a great experience for me. These guys are a little more polished than say some of the talent you would see in the GCL. It is the closest thing there is to the big leagues for me right now, which is great."
The biggest change this month in Solis' game has been the addition of another pitch, the cutter, to go along with his fastball, changeup and knuckle curve.
"I was looking for a pitch that was hard and away to left-handed hitters. Pitching coach Blaine Beatty taught me a couple of different grips for the cutter. I toyed with it and found a grip that I liked and stuck with it."
Solis says he was looking for another pitch that would be difficult for lefties to get to.
"I have a 12-to-6 curve, but I wanted something else that was a little more deceptive," he said. "I tried the cutter out in a game and got weak contact and some swings and misses so I stayed with it."
Solis credits Beatty, from the Orioles' system and the Frederick Keys pitching coach, as a good coach because he doesn't try to overhaul your pitching repertoire. Beatty just helped Solis make little changes and let him figure it out. That is the way it should be.
There will be plenty of times when players are out there on their own on the mound and have to get through tough jams in the heat of the battle.
"Beatty is really an awesome coach. He is really knowledgeable about the game. The best coaches teach you small adjustments and let you work through it yourself. That is how Beatty is as a coach."
Solis says he enjoyed watching the Fall Classic and gained inspiration watching the young Giants pitching staff do so well in victory.
"The World Series was so exciting. I am not a fan of either team, but I have family that lives near San Francisco, so I guess I was partial to the Giants.
"It was great to see the pitchers dominating so much in the playoffs. I especially enjoyed watching (Giants pitcher) Madison Bumgarner do so well because we were in the same draft class.
"It inspired me a little bit to see Bumgarner doing well. We were in a high school showcase together. I felt like if he can do that, my velocity is the same as his - I could be there too in two years, or maybe even one year. He has some very good movement on his stuff and that is what I am working on too."
Solis says he thinks he will have three more starts this month, beginning with Wednesday's matchup against Surprise, a rematch of his toughest outing so far in Arizona.
He also is enjoying pitching in Arizona since it is 40 minutes from his home, so he goes home every night for home cooking from Mom, fresh laundry and rest in his own bed.