ST. LOUIS - When Sammy Solís landed on the disabled list way back on April 19 with what he was told was some minor inflammation in his elbow, he assumed he’d be back pitching for the Nationals within two weeks.
Then two weeks became two months, Solís forced to shut down for a period of time and then start a throwing program over from scratch after learning he actually had nerve irritation in his elbow.
So forgive the left-hander for putting a wide smile on display this afternoon as he joined his teammates in St. Louis, finally active again and available to pitch out of the bullpen for tonight’s game against the Cardinals.
“I can’t really put it into words, because it was just a lot longer than I thought it would take,” he said. “Now that it’s finally here, I’m excited to get going.”
The Nationals have reason to be excited, as well. No, Solís alone isn’t going to solve the club’s overarching bullpen woes. But he was a major contributor to last year’s staff, and he’ll immediately give Dusty Baker a relief option he trusts late in games.
“Sammy’s been there before,” the manager said. “He said he’s ready.”
Solís has been an effective reliever whenever he’s been healthy enough to pitch for the Nationals, owner of a 3.11 ERA in 61 appearances spread out over the last three seasons. The problem has been keeping himself healthy enough to pitch.
Solís has a lengthy history of injuries, dating all the way back to his 2012 Tommy John surgery that eventually derailed his hopes of making it to the majors as a starter.
What, then, does he need to do to try to prevent any more ailments from cropping up as he returns to the bullpen for the season’s second half?
“Nothing that I wasn’t doing before,” he said. “Kind of a freak thing. I’d never in my life had any kind of nerve problem, even after Tommy John. Maybe just be aware of how much I’m throwing in the ‘pen, maybe before warmups. Just try to save as many bullets as I can. That would be the only thing I’m taking into this, because obviously our bullpen needs some help right now. And I’m all hands of deck ready to go right now if they call me.”
Solís was supposed to be one of the Nationals’ top setup options entering the season, a left-hander who can get both lefties and righties out. He instead was forced to watch for two months as Washington’s bullpen imploded, costing the team countless victories as Baker tried to mix and match every option available to him.
“That was tough,” Solís said. “Especially when I couldn’t even play catch yet. I’m just sitting on the couch watching it happen. It’s a tough thing to watch, and to not be able to go out there and at least attempt to help our team. That was the hardest thing for me mentally.”
Needing to clear a spot for Solís not only on the active roster but also on the 40-man roster - he had just been transferred to the 60-day DL on Friday when the Nationals needed a spot for infielder Adrian Sanchez - the club designated Jacob Turner for assignment.
Turner had been a pleasant surprise earlier in the season, a hard-throwing right-hander who served both as an emergency starter and a jack-of-all-trades reliever. But he had struggled of late, culminating with Friday night’s appearance in which he replaced Tanner Roark in the bottom of the fourth and immediately gave up five runs.
A St. Louis-area native who pitched in front of family members Friday, Turner now must wait to learn if he is claimed by another club, traded or outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse if he passes through waivers.
“We’re hoping for his sake that he gets claimed and can be somewhere in the big leagues,” Baker said. “But selfishly, for our sake, we want him to go back and start because we’re short starters in this organization, and you can never have too many. Because he had more success starting than he did relieving. A fine young man. I hate to send him out, period, but especially here because this is his home.”
Today’s move leaves the Nationals with four left-handers in their bullpen (Solís, Oliver Pérez, Enny Romero, Matt Grace) and only three right-handers (Matt Albers, Blake Treinen, Joe Blanton). It’s an unconventional alignment, but Baker said Grace (who has options) didn’t merit a demotion.
“I mean, he’s earned it,” the manager said. “He’s earned the right to be here.”