BALTIMORE — It’s been anything but a smooth return for Nolan Reimold in his return from last season’s spinal fusion surgery that sidelined him after 16 April games and forced him to watch the Orioles’ improbable run to the playoffs.
A sore throwing shoulder in spring training as well as a tweaked hamstring in the second series of the season have provided more physical challenges for the 29-year-old outfielder and designated hitter, but Reimold isn’t making any excuses for his 7-for-37 start entering Thursday’s game. Of course, much has been made about the Orioles’ struggles at the DH spot collectively as the club is 3-for-47 on the season at that position. Reimold going 3-for-27 while serving in that role.
Asked before the finale of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, Reimold said the nagging injuries he’s dealt with this spring aren’t impacting his play. Reimold has struck out 13 times in 41 plate appearances, which is more frequent than his career average of one strikeout per every 5.1 plate appearances.
“Physically, I don’t have any excuses for not performing,” Reimold said. “I’ve just got to play better. Work at it, get comfortable, and start helping.”
In addition to proving he’s fully recovered from last year’s neck surgery, Reimold is still getting used to being the club’s regular designated hitter against right-handed pitching. In his five-year career in the major leagues, he’s served as a DH in no more than 12 games in any one year. He started in left field on Thursday as Tampa Bay lefty David Price was on the hill and Steve Pearce made his fifth start of the season as the designated hitter.
Asked whether a player used to being in the field can have a difficult time when being moved to DH, manager Buck Showalter said it’s a distinct possibility.
“Probably so. I think it’s more of an adjustment when you’re not off to a real upper-level statistical start when you’ve got some time in between,” Showalter said. “I’m kind of hoping [Thursday] that he gets a little mental break from it by playing the outfield. Some of that’s had to do with the hamstring. He’s kind of nursing that through a little bit.”
Entering Thursday’s game, Reimold was 4-for-10 in three games as the club’s left fielder, but it’s tough to fault the Orioles for preferring to use Nate McLouth in the field, who is considered the superior defensive player.
Showalter said Reimold could receive more time in the outfield than what we’ve seen over the season’s first 14 games, but the DH spot can also be viewed as a way to keep the injury-riddled Reimold healthier in hopes of having him available for the entire season. Of course, the Orioles need his production to help make up for their inability to add a middle-of-the-order bat over the winter.
Reimold acknowledged he isn’t fully comfortable just yet in his new role, but he expressed confidence that he’ll eventually get on track.
“It’s a different mentality, a different routine for you, especially during the game. You’ve just got to work at it and get used to it. It’s no excuse to not perform on the field. It’s good to be able to play, at least get at-bats every day. I’ll be alright. It’s early in the season. I’ve just got to keep working at it, keep battling until things click in and I can start performing better.”
He hasn’t been the only hitter to struggle at the plate as Pearce was 0-for-13 to begin the season and second baseman Ryan Flaherty has only two hits in his first 28 at-bats. Those numbers raise more eyebrows at the start of the season without a body of work from which to draw, but Reimold has the longest track record of the three and is taking the difficult start in stride.
It’s a change from past seasons when he would tend to get down on himself easily whenever he struggled or was going through challenges from a health perspective.
But he also knows he needs to start producing sooner rather than later.
“Everybody throughout the year goes through a little bit of rough patches,” Reimold said. “Mine, I’m going through a rough patch right now, so hopefully I fight through it and get out of it.”
NOTES: Injured second baseman Brian Roberts jogged lightly in a pool treadmill in Sarasota on Thursday. Showalter said the veteran is improving, but there are no signs his return is imminent from a torn tendon behind his right knee. … Right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson threw 70 pitches over four innings in Sarasota on Thursday and is expected to go on a minor-league rehab assignment next. He was struck in the thigh with a line drive during the outing but continued his outing. … Lefty Tsuyoshi Wada threw 45 pitches over three innings in Sarasota and could progress to a 60-pitch outing if he has no issues with his surgically-repaired elbow. … Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia will be activated by Double-A Bowie on Friday. The 26-year-old impressed coaches in extended spring training, according to Showalter, but that was expected given his age and level of experience playing competitively in his native country.