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As his minor league rehab nears end, Nolan Reimold says he feels 'a lot better'

With assignment expiring Sunday, Orioles must decide what to do with 30-year-old outfielder by Monday

By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

6:34 PM EDT, June 26, 2014

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BOWIE -- Nolan Reimold has a reason to be optimistic again.

Reimold, who has spent most of the past three seasons clinging to small victories with his health and hoping to eventually put his injury-plagued past behind him, is currently in the final days of a minor league injury rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Bowie. And he said recently that he feels "a lot better."

The 30-year-old outfielder's 20-game rehab assignment window ends Sunday, so the Orioles almost certainly need to find a way to add him to the 25-man roster on Monday to keep him in the organization. Reimold doesn't have any minor league options remaining, so he would have to clear waivers — and that likely wouldn't happen — before he could be sent down.

"Nolan is doing fine," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "He's getting on base. He's playing in the field. He's hitting the ball pretty well, so hopefully we can find a spot for him. … He's worked hard to come back and have another opportunity. He had two [neck] surgeries, so he's doing well to get back."

The Orioles will have a difficult time fitting Reimold, who has been limited to just 56 major league games since the beginning of the 2012 season because of multiple neck surgeries, on a crowded 25-man roster. The team currently has three right-handed hitters who play left field and designated hitter.

Nelson Cruz led the major leagues through Wednesday with 64 RBIs, and he was tied for the lead with 24 home runs. Steve Pearce, who is batting .331 in 41 games this season, has been one of the team's hottest hitters over the past six weeks, and Delmon Young is batting a career-high .320 in 37 games.

The past three years have been frustrating for Reimold, who opened this season on the disabled list because he continued to feel the effects of corrective surgery that fused two vertebrae together in his neck last July. The effects mostly were seen when Reimold played the outfield, where he struggled with running and had limited range of motion in his neck while trying to chase fly balls.

In retrospect, Reimold said he likely never has allowed any of his previous injuries to fully heal — from left Achilles tendon surgery that ended his rookie season in 2009 to the bulging disk removal and fusion that cost him all but 16 games of a promising 2012 season to the corrective procedure last year.

"The muscles around your back and in your shoulders, they need time to strengthen and adjust and loosen up and start working together again," Reimold said Tuesday before Bowie's game against Trenton at Prince George's Stadium. "Since spring training, all that running around and pounding did get pretty uncomfortable for me, and it would have been next to impossible for me to go out there and play every single day in the field. But I did a lot of work trying to strengthen and loosen it and try to get my body back in shape when I was down in Florida. In that regard, I feel a lot better."

It is clear that Reimold, if healthy, could help the Orioles. But since he played in 104 games as a rookie, Reimold hasn't played more than 87 games in a season, constantly battling injuries. He hasn't played in a major league regular season game since July 13, 2013.

"Compared to last year, everything is a lot more consistent," Reimold said. "I'm progressing well, especially for not having really any healthy at-bats in two years. Even in spring training, I don't think I was ready in spring training. I've come back too early from every injury I've had. I've probably never let anything fully heal. I needed that time down in Florida to get myself right, and I feel like I'm progressing pretty well."

In 13 games playing for Bowie through Wednesday, Reimold batted .359 with two home runs, nine RBIs, three doubles and nine runs scored.

"Certainly he's not done his rehab here, but he's leaps and bounds compared to where he was last year," Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. "And that's not a knock on him last year. He just hadn't played baseball in a while. Even when he got here this year, from the first day of the rehab, he was a lot more engaged. The ball was coming off his bat better. He was closer to a return. It's been all good."

Reimold left the June 16 game after 41/2 innings because of a left groin strain. He also had fouled two balls off the same spot in his left foot during that game. The groin injury caused him to miss the next two games.

Since returning to the lineup, Reimold has eight hits in 17 at-bats through Wednesday, including two doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs. But he has played the outfield just once heading into Thursday — for six innings Tuesday.

When Reimold first reported to his rehab assignment, he played the outfield every other day — six innings in his first two games in left field and then eight innings in his third game. It was in his fourth game playing left field that he was removed with the groin tightness.

"I feel like I've improved a lot," Reimold said. "I'm just going to keep improving. At this point and time, the biggest thing for me is to play every day and keep getting consistent at-bats and just getting back to the baseball life and routine again. That's what I'm doing while I'm here. At a certain point, things come along and you're just relaxed and you play the game. I think I'm doing a lot better than that.

Reimold continues to get back into the routine of playing left field every other day. But if the Orioles deem he has another injury that is unrelated to his neck issues, the club could keep him on the DL. That's what the team did in May with outfielder Francisco Peguero, another player who is out of minor league options.

Peguero started the season on the DL with right wrist tendinitis, went on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk and remained on the DL with a hamstring strain after playing the maximum games allowed on the assignment. Now healthy, he since has been passed through waivers and outrighted to the Tides.

As for Reimold, he said he has followed the Orioles season closely, but it has been difficult for him to be away from the team.

For the first time in two years, though, Reimold said he feels like he's getting closer to returning to the major leagues for good.

"It's been really tough," Reimold said. "It's been really frustrating and depressing, too. You watch the game, and you watch everyone out there, and sometimes you just want to shut it off and just try to block it out, especially when you're at home and you can't physically do anything. …

"It's not that I didn't want to watch the games. I do follow the team now, for sure. There's a point and time when I just wanted to walk it out because it just starts ruining your day when you start thinking about it. I'm progressing. I'm doing well. I feel like I can get up there and help the team again if they want me."

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Nolan Reimold's career statistics

Year; Games; Avg.; HRs; RBIs

2009; 104; .279; 15; 45

2010; 39; .207; 3; 14

2011; 87; .247; 13; 45

2012; 16; .313; 5; 10

2013; 40; .195; 5; 12