Nationals left-hander Sammy Solis pitched a pair of no-hit innings in Sunday's scrimmage pitting Washington farmhands against Houston Astros prospects. Solis threw the seventh and eighth innings and, after a shaky start, settled down and dominated.
"First guy, I got to 0-2 and hit him," Solis said. "It was just a little jitters. It was the first time seeing an opposing hitter in there so I was a little excited. After that, I settled down perfectly, allowed no hits for two innings with no walks. It was good."
So how did the fast ball feel for those six outs? Solis said it was fantastic.
"That is what was really on," Solis remembered. "I was spotting the fastball, busting in the whole time, which is good because that is where I love to live. I was going right back home with that. We worked the changeup a lot. A few offspeed pitches, two curveballs in there, and that was it. The changeup is my best pitch. We were trying to get in there against those guys."
Solis said he had a great rapport with catcher Sandy Leon, saying the 21-year old is "an absolutely phenomenal catcher."
It was a perfect first game for Solis after arriving in Viera just 11 days ago. Early on, the camp focus has been what one would expect: fundamentals on defense.
"We have been doing a lot of defensive stuff," Solis said. "We have a lot of PFP (pitchers' fielding practice), which is not the most fun but at the same time very necessary to get back into the game." PFP entails fielding bunts, working on signs and covering first base.
Looking up and down the accelerated roster, the team is stocked with quality starters. Single-A Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart said 20 of the 24 pitchers in camp are starters in the Nationals system. But Sunday's scrimmage began with a veteran major leaguer on the hill.
"Today, we had Livan Hernandez pitching for us for the first four innings which was nice," Solis said. "After that, nothing changed. We were just dominating those guys. I don't think a man got to third base in nine innings. It was a good deal."
Solis said it meant a lot to play an actual game after all the structured drills during the week.
"We were throwing live batting practices where we had to tell the hitters what was coming," Solis recounted. "It is nice to get out there and be a little more competitive with guys and see some guys we haven't seen 100 times."
Solis will get his first start Thursday against Italy.
"I would guess I would be pitch-counted around 60 pitches," Solis said. "We have been working 30 to 45 pitches. I think it was 30 pitches today. I think it will be bumped a little more just because we are getting pretty close to actual camp starting and then playing a lot of games."
But Solis said real scrimmage or not, accelerated camp is really helping his game.
"I think the camp is absolutely necessary, especially for me," Solis said. "The main thing for me is the PFP stuff. You get out of it sitting at home. It is a thinking man's game. We kind of forget, 'I will cover first base this time or back up this base,' so the coaches like to really pound it into our heads during the accelerated camp."
Is it tough for the big guys like Solis to field their position? Solis said that is where people might make an assumption about his fielding ability and be dead wrong. "Honestly, people think I wouldn't really be an athlete being 6-foot-5 and almost 240 lbs., but I can move pretty well," Solis said.
Menhart said Solis pitched "very well" and the pitching coach "loved the poise" demonstrated by the young southpaw Sunday. I asked Solis where the calm and cool demeanor came from.
"I can't put a finger on where that comes from," Solis said. "I have played high level baseball my entire life. played on one of the best club teams in America growing up, so I got a lot of big game experience. I played on a lot of traveling teams, some of the best teams in the country. That is where it came from. It kind of got ingrained in me at a young age. I have carried it over from high school to college and now to professional ball."
Solis is learning a lot in this accelerated camp after helping the Scottsdale Scorpions clinch the Arizona Fall League title back in November. With the calendar now in March, that means that Solis' first full season in the Nationals organization is just around the corner.
"It definitely is (exciting)," Solis said. "You are working and working. Now we can finally get to work towards something. Obviously, there is no accelerated or spring training championship, but it is just we are so close to an actual season and playing games and having a real record. It is exciting for all of us."