SARASOTA, Fla. — Under the bright Florida sun on Tuesday afternoon, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold took his first swings against a pitcher since last April. Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada tested his surgically repaired left elbow with a long- toss session that is part of a tedious throwing progression to strengthen his arm.
Reimold and Wada were expected to be key parts of the Orioles’ 2012 season until injuries set them back. Turn the page to the start of spring training, and they’re reason to believe in the future.
Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to the Ed Smith Stadium complex Tuesday for the beginning of spring training. A bevy of position players — including cornerstone players like center fielder Adam Jones, shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Manny Machado — joined them four days before the team’s first full-squad workout.
While the Orioles didn’t light up the hot stove much this postseason, they are confident that the existing core of players, buoyed by the expected return of key contributors like Reimold, Wada and second baseman Brian Roberts, can help sustain their sudden success of 2012, when they made the American League playoffs after 14 consecutive losing seasons.
When his full squad reports to camp, Manager Buck Showalter will have a message for his team: Be better than the other four teams in the heavyweight AL East.
“It’s understanding the challenge that’s going to be ahead of us,” Showalter said. “God knows we play them enough times. It’s about being better than those four teams and it’s going to be a challenge like it always is.”
Roberts, in the final season of a four-year, $40 million contract, hasn’t played in more than 59 games since 2009 because of various injuries. Wada, the Japanese left-hander who signed a two-year, $8.15 million contract last offseason, could return from Tommy John surgery in May.
And then there’s Reimold, who carried the Orioles for the first two weeks of the season before suffering a season-ending herniated disk in his neck making a diving catch into the stands in Chicago. He batted .313 with five homers and 10 RBI through 16 games.
Reimold isn’t guaranteed a starting spot this season. The Orioles re-signed Nate McLouth, who patrolled in left field in his absence last season. Showalter said he knows Reimold feels like a forgotten man, but said he likes that “edge” he sees in him. (Players weren’t made available to speak to reporters Tuesday.)
It’s the same edge — the same chip on the shoulder — the Orioles aim to maintain in sustaining their 2012 success.