Nolan Reimold hadn't yet faced an opposing pitcher in 10 months heading into Sunday's Grapefruit League game against the Toronto Blue Jays. But Orioles manager Buck Showalter had already noticed the progress Reimold made this spring after season-ending neck surgery last year.
Showalter said Reimold, who last played in a game April 30, was disappointed that he wasn't in the starting lineup for the Orioles' Grapefruit League opener Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium.
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"You see the difference in [him] since the first day that camp opened, really early before it actually started to where he's at," Showalter said. "I know that when he was a little ticked off about playing yesterday. We're in a good spot. It's time."
Instead, he had to wait for the team's road opener Sunday against the Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, starting in left field and going 0-for-3 at the plate.
"I worked really hard this offseason to be able to play this spring training, so first game is kind of a milestone," said Reimold, who hit .313/.333/.627 in 16 games before his injury. "My goal is to be out there during the regular season.
"[I was] happy to step in the box again. It's been a long 10 months — I think it's been — since I had an at-bat. I just felt good to have it behind me."
Showalter said Reimold has already made tremendous strides this spring, and the manager is confident that will continue.
"What he is now is not what he will be in April," Showalter said. "Whatever happens here, he's just getting back into baseball activity and shape. It's not one of those things where strength gets better every day. It's like once a week, he'll notice that he's doing some things that he wasn't able to do without thinking about it. He's just kind of getting out of that mode of thinking about every time he swings, 'Is this going to hurt?'"
Showalter said he will pace Reimold out this spring because he's coming off the surgery.
"I want to play whenever he puts me in there," Reimold said. "I think the plan is to take me a little bit slow, but gradually progressing, but that's what he does with everybody. If he did put me in there every game, I would be able to do it, physically, but I don't think that's the plan."
But one thing Showalter has noticed it that Reimold isn't worried about the pain. Any frustration is rooted from improving his game or not being in the lineup.
"I know he's not thinking about it as much because now he's frustrated with the right things," Showalter said. "I wouldn't want to be riding with him back to Sarasota."
Valencia with start at first
Orioles infielder Danny Valencia, primarily a third baseman throughout his career, started Sunday's game at first base.
Valencia has never played a regular season major league game at first and hasn't played the position during the season since 2008, when he played two games there at the Double-A level. He has played in 22 games at first in the minors.
Valencia's .316 career average against left-handed pitching makes him an intriguing roster fit as a right-handed designated hitter, but his ability to show he could back up Chris Davis at first could be the difference.
Valencia played well at first, starting a key double-play that stranded the bases loaded in the fifth. He took a grounder off the bat of Mark DeRosa and threw home to get pinch runner and former Oriole Adam Loewen at the plate.
Orioles top Blue Jays
Steve Pearce drove in three runs, including two-run homer of starter Mark Buerhle, to guide the Orioles to a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays.
Pearce took Buerhle deep over the left-field fence in the second inning on an 0-2 pitch. He added a game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning.
Trayvon Robinson and Jason Pridie hit back-to-back doubles in a two-run eighth to break a 3-3 tie.
Left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore retired all six hitters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings.
Around the horn: Right-hander Chris Tillman will start Tuesday's game against the Pirates in Bradenton. He is expected to go two innings. … Toronto bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was the Orioles' third-base coach last season, ran the Jays with manager John Gibbons traveling to a split-squad game against the Yankees in Tampa.