SARASOTA, Fla. — Nolan Reimold hasn’t played left field since last Friday, and if he can’t get out there consistently this spring, he could end up on the disabled list when the Orioles break camp.
That’s so far away in Reimold’s mind, however, that he’s not even slightly worried.
“What do we still got, four weeks [left]? I think I’ll be all right,” said Reimold, who has been dealing with right shoulder tightness and has been limited to designated hitter duties. “I’m not really concerned about not being able to play the field. I’ve made a lot of progress and I’ll be able to play the field for sure.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked Thursday morning whether he would take Reimold north with the club at the end of March if the 29-year-old were still limited to designated hitter duties only.
Showalter prefaced it by saying it’s too early to make those decisions, but said he’d probably lean toward not activating Reimold if he couldn’t play the field.
“I think we’re approaching it that we want him to play left field to be active when the season starts,” Showalter said. “Nolan’s a good outfielder and we want to bring him back to bringing that skill to us. So you are saying if he says, ‘That I can DH, that it doesn’t bother me at all, which is the case now, but I can’t throw or play defense,’ would we take him? Probably not.”
Reimold batted .313 with six doubles and five homers in just 16 games last season before a herniated disk — that evolved into neck surgery — ended his season. He said his neck feels good now, but his shoulder felt tight while throwing this month. It wasn’t really pain, just a difficulty getting loose.
He threw at about 70 percent on Thursday and said the shoulder, “felt a lot better.”
The original hope was that he could play in the field Sunday, but it’s more likely he’ll DH again. But he expects that to change in the near future.
“I’ll be able to play the field again,” said Reimold, who has two hits in 14 at-bats in six spring games. “I just got to take care of my arm, work that issue out and get back out there.”
The health of Reimold, who homered off Toronto’s Mark Buehrle in the first inning Thursday for his second in Grapefruit League action, is one of the Orioles’ most important storylines this spring.
If he is healthy, the Orioles wouldn’t necessarily have to keep a fifth outfielder on the 25-man roster since they also have Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. They could use a multi-positional player such as Steve Pearce, Conor Jackson or Ryan Flaherty in that spot.
If Reimold can’t play the field, however, the Orioles likely would have to keep a traditional outfielder — Chris Dickerson, Trayvon Robinson, L.J. Hoes, Xavier Avery and Lew Ford are among the candidates – and that would eliminate an opportunity for another bench candidate. It also could hurt the chances of corner infielders Danny Valencia and Travis Ishikawa.
“A lot of the roster spots being open is going to have to do with Nolan’s health,” Showalter said. “If Nolan is healthy and ready to go, you have a different dynamic, where you look at the roster differently.”
Due primarily to injuries, Reimold has played in just 142 big league games in the past three years after appearing in 104 as a rookie in 2009. His ability to get on base and hit home runs would be a major asset to a lineup that is short on right-handed power.
But the club already has switch-hitter Wilson Betemit, who is targeted as the primary left-handed designated hitter. And so part of Reimold’s allure is his ability to spell the club’s other primary outfielders. However, the uncertainty surrounding his health is one of the reasons the club made it a priority to re-sign McLouth this offseason.