SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold has been at this place before, looking forward to putting his injury-plagued past behind him.
The past two years, Reimold has played in just 56 games. Each of those seasons ended with major neck surgery. Hindered by a string of tough luck, Reimold hasn’t played in more than 87 games since his rookie year of 2009.
“I feel pretty good,” Reimold said Wednesday. “I feel pretty healthy. It’s just a matter of getting into baseball shape and start playing again. The neck feels good. The arm feels a lot better than what it was, a lot stronger. I’m ready to get started.”
Around Christmas, Reimold was cleared to resume baseball activities, with no restrictions, and on Wednesday he arrived at the Orioles’ minicamp to officially begin his preparation for spring training.
Reimold said he’s done some lifting and light running on his own back home in Jacksonville, but his baseball activities have been limited to some light throwing sessions.
He spent Wednesday hitting indoors and doing some light running on the complex’s artificial turf field. On Thursday, he’s expected to hit live batting practice for the first time.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has seen Reimold in this situation before — only to see him battle injuries again — but Showalter said this time it seems different. Showalter notices the stiffness in Reimold’s neck is gone, and he seems more relaxed.
“With Nolan, I've sat in this environment, with me here and him [sitting] there quite a few times,” Showalter said, sitting behind the desk in of his office at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex. “And I can tell the picture is different than the one before.
“You can tell he feels better about himself. Last year, when he was getting ready to [take BP], there was a lot of anxiety about it. You can tell there's not this year. In his mind, it's not a matter of if, but when. And I can just tell from talking to him.”
Reimold began the 2012 season on a tear, hitting .353 through the first eight games, but when he dove into the stands to catch a foul ball during a game at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field in mid-April, that changed. He tried two epidural injections, which calmed the swelling in his neck, but there was still recurrent tingling in his right arm.
He went on the disabled list on May 4 with a herniated disc in his neck, and a month later he had surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck.
Reimold returned last season, but struggled at the plate and lasted just 40 games before his season ended again when it was revealed that the fusion surgery didn’t work and he needed another one.
“The nature of the injury just takes forever,” Reimold said. “It’s just really slow. The neck can be fine but the symptoms, the arm and everything, takes forever to resolve itself. And the further you go along, the slower it goes. I think I’m pretty far along. It feels the best it has since this happened. There’s always room for improvement, but I shouldn’t have any problems.”
Reimold said rebuilding the strength in his arm took the longest.
“You can’t just take a handful of muscle and put it back on your shoulder,” he said. “And that’s kind of what happened. In order to build that back all up, it takes a lot of time. But that being said, I feel good. I feel the best I have in a long time in that regard.”
In the meantime, the Orioles traded for David Lough — who will compete with Reimold for playing time in left field — and signed Delmon Young, who could take right-handed designated hitter at bats away from Reimold. The club also agreed to terms on Wednesday with former Colorado Rockies outfielder Tyler Colvin, according to a source.
“They signed a bunch of outfielders last year, too, and rightfully so,” Reimold said. “I'm not worrying about any of that.”
At last count, Reimold is one of the 12 outfielders the Orioles have invited to major league spring training camp.
“It's good players competing,” Showalter said. “There's a way to keep them all in the fold, too … but we'll see. He knows. Nolan, at this point, just wants to get out and play.
“I'm pulling for him, just from a human being standpoint. He's been through a lot. And I'm very proud how the organization's stuck with him, and he is, too. He feels indebted for the support. We've been very supportive. That's kind of been [managing partner Peter Angelos'] M.O. through the years, especially when I've heard Peter talk about how he got hurt. He got hurt playing for the Baltimore Orioles and making a great play and trying to help us win a game. Why would you turn your back on him?”
After speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Reimold pulled out his cell phone and showed the X-ray of his neck, which showed two screws and a titanium rod fusing his vertebrae together. He joked that over the past two years he’s learned far too much about spinal fusion surgery.
But now he’s more than ready to put that in the past.
“It’s a huge difference between [2012 and now], and even when before in the middle of the season when I got shut down ... it’s a big difference from that too,” Reimold said. “That feels a lot better. I’m anxious to get out there and get going and start doing baseball stuff with it down here. We’ll see how it goes. It should be good.”
And Reimold knows far too well not to get ahead of himself; he knows returning from injury involves tempering small victories. Thursday’s live batting practice will be his next challenge.
“[It] will be another bridge to cross,” Showalter said. “I wouldn't be surprised to see him swing and miss. … I don't know. I think he's looking forward as much to getting out and getting in that environment as he is actually hitting — just being in uniform and having a ball thrown to him, smell the grass and dirt. It's been a long time. He’s been doing it a long time. He’s going to miss it.”
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