Through 10 weeks this season, many players on the Nationals' roster have exceeded expectations.
Daniel Murphy clearly tops that list. After him it's probably Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, two pitchers who have made guessing Lucas Giolito's MLB debut an impossible exercise. Wilson Ramos, too. He's been a revelation this season and should earn his first All-Star nod because of it.
Reliever Sammy Solis, though, has been a breakout star in his own right. A former second round pick in the 2010 draft where Bryce Harper went first overall, Solis has finally realized his potential as a 6-foot-5 lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a changeup-curveball combo to maximize it.
With Jonathan Papelbon now on the disabled list, it was no surprise that manager Dusty Baker turned to Solis on Tuesday night for some high leverage action against the Cubs. But when baseball's best team applied some late-game pressure, Solis cracked for the first time in a while.
Solis first pitched a scoreless top of the eighth to extend his streak of scoreless innings to 15 1/3, the longest for any Nats reliever this season. The Nationals then tied it on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Rendon in the bottom half of the frame.
Baker stuck with Solis in the ninth, but he quickly gave up a leadoff walk to Addison Russell, a sacrifice bunt to David Ross and then a go-ahead, RBI double to Albert Amora. Russell scored from second to make it 4-3, Cubs.
The double was costly, but afterwards the 27-year-old Solis zeroed in on the free pass to Russell as his biggest mistake.
"Leadoff walk. I can't do that, especially in a game like that. This hitting team, I can't give them any type of edge. No outs, man on first. It hurts," he said.
The decisive blow was dealt by Almora and a history between the two players may have helped the Cubs' rookie. He knew what to look for and hit the double on the first pitch he saw.
"It was quick," Almora said of his at-bat. "I knew Sammy a little bit. We played against each other in the [Arizona] Fall League. We looked at each other. I gave him a little nod with the helmet. It was time to go to work. He made a good pitch and just tried to stay up the middle and it fell for me."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon liked seeing his young outfielder go right after it.
"The guy has been up here for five minutes. Goes up there and is not passive. He went up there, jumped on the first pitch and I loved it," Maddon said.
Baker will need Solis with Papelbon on the mend and Felipe Rivero - his best lefty earlier this season - currently sporting a 5.46 ERA. In a few short weeks Solis has earned a prominent role in the Nats' bullpen and Baker isn't about to shy away from using him.
"He's been great for us. He just made one bad pitch," Baker said. "He got the slider up, and that was really the only bad pitch he's made in I-don't-know-how-long."
Now it's up to Solis to respond. He's only allowed an earned run in two previous outings this season. After the first time he then tossed three consecutive scoreless outings. After the second he went 10 straight without yielding a run.
Bouncing back from bad nights is a big part of the job as a reliever, and though he was drafted as a starter, Solis feels he's reached a point where he can quickly move on to the next one.
"Be ready tomorrow. That's the thing. It sucks today. Obviously I probably won't sleep tonight. But I'll come ready to go tomorrow," he said.