VIERA, Fla. — More than two months after they felt they’d dodged a bullet, the Washington Nationals and left-handed prospect Sammy Solis got exactly the news they were hoping to avoid. Solis will undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on March 6, general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday.
He’ll be operated on by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, the same surgeon who performed the procedure on Nationals pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in 2010 and 2009, respectively. With a normal recovery, Solis should be on schedule to return at the start of spring training in 2013.
“He’s a terrific prospect,” Rizzo said, delivering news he’s become all-too-familiar sharing. “He’s got great stuff. We always thought that he was a quick to the big leagues guy and this will derail that a little bit.
“But [Yocum] is the same surgeon that did Strasburg and Zimmermann so we feel confident that he should regain his pre-injury form, and we feel that once he does, he’ll be a definite positive factor for us in the future.”
Solis, 23, complained of elbow soreness after his final start in the Arizona Fall League this past November, a three-inning performance where he allowed three runs off four hits and two walks. He then visited with Nationals team doctor Wiemi Douoguih and also saw Yocum for a second opinion.
The MRI taken at that time showed what Rizzo called “a slight change from our original baseline,” but Solis passed all of the physical tests the doctors put him through, and they felt a one-month rest period, followed by a throwing program to regain his strength, was the best route back to full health. When Solis arrived to camp this spring it appeared they’d made the right decision, and he threw multiple bullpen sessions without incident. But he cut short his throwing on Friday and traveled to see Yocum on Tuesday morning.
“Because he passed all the physical tests they put him through, they felt the most prudent course of action would be to have him rest for a month and then ramp him back up to see if we can avoid the Tommy John,” Rizzo said.
“We always knew that this was a possibility, but we thought that instead of just cutting on him after the first diagnosis, maybe we could get through this with rehabilitation and we couldn’t. It cost us a couple of months, but we felt that it was prudent for a young pitcher. If two doctors aren’t 100 percent sure Tommy John surgery is needed, I wasn’t going to be the one to say it was needed.”
Solis was 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA last season in the AFL, struggling at the start as he worked to install a new curveball, but put things together toward the end — including a dazzling four-inning, nine-strikeout performance on Nov. 4 which Rizzo attended. His doctors visits followed his next start.
Solis was a second-round pick in 2010 out of the University of San Diego and signed with the Nationals for a well-over-slot bonus of $1 million that August. He pitched well last season with Single-A Hagerstown and then Potomac after overcoming a groin injury in spring training that set him back a bit. He also underwent surgery for a herniated disc in 2009 while still in college.
Solis finished 2011 with an 8-3 record and a 3.26 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings. He went to the Arizona Fall League to build up his innings count after the late start this season due to the nagging injuries during the spring.
Solis was ranked the No. 8 prospect in the Nationals system by Baseball America before the trade of Gio Gonzalez took away two of their top five prospects. Baseball Prospectus listed him as the No. 10 prospect in the organization after the trade.
Now he will be a non-factor for the Nationals until 2013 at the earliest.