Left-hander Sammy Solis was back. He had recovered from Tommy John surgery. He was pitching again in the game he loved.
But something still wasn’t quite right. And he was starting to get nervous.
“It was one day at a time,” Solis said on his May return to high Single-A Potomac. “Every day was different with my arm. One day, it would feel great, the next day it was like, ‘Oh, my. Do I need surgery again?’ The biggest thing on field to overcome was just my arm tightening up between every inning.”
Solis pitched well, going 2-1 in 12 starts with a 3.43 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 19 walks in 57 2/3 innings. But those early starts were kind of scary because he knew he was dealing with a surgically repaired arm. It did not start feeling better until he got to the Arizona Fall League.
“It was just a grind to keep my arm loose and feeling well,” Solis said. “It really didn’t feel great until I started the fall league. The whole season I was just kind of fighting it. I think that is what happens to most guys who get the surgery is just feeling good every day. It didn’t happen until I got out to Arizona and then thankfully it kind of kicked in and now it feels as if it never happened.”
Solis said he talked to several players and coaches during his recovery from Tommy John, but it was a teammate that helped him the most this past summer.
“Honestly, there have been a million guys who had (the surgery),” Solis said. “I talked to Taylor Jordan a lot about it because he had gotten it right before I did. So just asking him questions about it - Should I be feeling this way? When do you think it will get better? Any tips for working out? - that kind of thing, that would make it feel better.
“Jordan was one of the bigger guys that I talked to about it, but everyone kind of had their input on it. A lot of coaches helped me out. They were very patient with me, which was comforting. I am sitting there, like, ‘Gee, I am just off surgery, but I need to perform because I am trying to move up but I am only getting older.’ It took awhile. I was impatient with it at times, and I was patient with it at other times. It was just a long process.”
Arriving back in Arizona, his home state, helped him relax. And he had an outstanding experience with the Mesa Solar Sox. Solis went 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA in seven starts for Mesa.
His win late in the season catapulted the Solar Sox into the championship game, the second straight season the entry partially stocked by the Nationals made it all the way to the final contest.
“First of all, being back out here was just great,” Solis said of his return to the Grand Canyon State. “Obviously, I grew up here for 20 years. Pitching in front of the home crowd, my family was there, it kind of took all the pressure off. I was out here and having fun. It was my third time in the fall league, which a lot of guys just laugh (about) because that never really happens.
“So I kind of knew the ropes. It just worked out. I got out here and I was expecting honestly, the same kind of feeling with my arm, I was expecting it to be tight and it just wasn’t. It felt as if I hadn’t had surgery and honestly I got stronger and it started to progress.”
Delivering the Solar Sox to the AFL championship game was third major start in a championship round this season for Solis. He started twice for Potomac in the Mills Cup finals of the Carolina League against Salem.
What is his secret to pitching well in big games?
“Growing up, I was always the guy to go to in big games like that,” Solis said. “It just has to do with confidence. On the mound, I work quickly. Even if I give up a couple of hits, I am right back on the rubber. I think you can kind of keep the ball rolling instead of having your outfielders and infielders sitting back on their heels waiting for me to give up another hit. If it happens, it happens. I think it is just confidence level. I like to work quick. I think that is what helps me get through starts.”
Fall league is also a chance to work out some kinks in delivery. Solis had not been happy with one of his important pitches during the season and while in Arizona, he was able to fix the problem.
“I would say I relied a little more on my breaking ball in the fall league, maybe too much at times,” Solis said. “But I think that finding the feel for that pitch was the most important thing for me because all season I just couldn’t find it. I was pitching off a fastball and a changeup.
“When I got out here it finally kicked in. I started throwing for strikes which I just hadn’t been. I found a feel for it. That was a lot of bullpen work, a lot of dry work. It finally came around. I think that was the biggest thing.”
The best news for Solis this season, however, was a call he received from the Nationals last week in which they told him his contract had been purchased to put him on the 40-man roster, alongside pitcher Aaron Barrett and outfielder Michael Taylor.
To get the call was a wonderful surprise for Solis.
“It was, it really was,” Solis said. “Going into it, they were like ‘This is an important (fall season) for you.’ I knew it already. I went out there and did what I could. I just kind of kept my head down and worked hard. It ended up working out.”