Need for second neck surgery 'frustrating' for Reimold
Tests on O's outfielder show spine never fused properly from first procedure
ARLINGTON -- Orioles left fielder Nolan Reimold, who will have season-ending corrective neck surgery on Tuesday, was just looking for a way to get his arm strength back.
Reimold, cleared in January to resume baseball activities following last June's spinal fusion procedure, was still having trouble getting his left arm over the hump, and the 29-year-old had a bunch of tests done over the All-Star break to see if there was a way to help. The results were shocking, with Reimold learning that the spine never fused properly and needed to be redone, ending his season for the second consecutive year.
"I was under the impression everything was fused," said Reimold, who had the initial procedure done by Dr. Ziya Gokaslan, a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and was a full-go upon arriving at Orioles camp. "I was released for activity [by Gokaslan] without restrictions, so I thought it was good and healed. From everything I was told and read, it was supposed to be the strongest link in your spine. When that bone fuses together it's supposed to be fused together and be stronger than it was before.
"It was a shock when I got the results. I'm lucky, in a way, that I caught it now instead of keep making it worse."
Reimold was still waiting for one more set of tests results when speaking to MLB.com on Saturday, but acknowledged that by all accounts the second procedure is a necessity. That corrective surgery will be done by Dr. Robert Kowalski -- a neurosurgeon he saw over the break -- at the Florida Spine Institute and the timeline is about the same, although the rehab will be a little better.
"I'm not going to even try to push it until I know it's ready to go," said Reimold, who is about a month behind last year's schedule given the different surgery dates. "I thought it was [ready] before, but I'm not going to do anything, push it, I'm going to give it all the time it needs. I don't have the muscle atrophy that I had before. That's a good thing. It's the same rehab. I don't have near as much arm strength that I lost to get back.
"Going into Spring Training, it'd be tough to be a full-go. Even if I was, I'd probably ease into it."
Reimold has played in just 56 games since the start of the 2012 and suffered the neck injury diving into the left-field stands for a ball at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago last April.
Originally called a herniated disk, Reimold -- the team's hottest hitter at the time -- played through that injury before it was discovered that he needed spinal fusion surgery, which is the procedure NFL quarterback Peyton Manning had.
After being cleared in January, Reimold worked hard to be back for Spring Training and made the team's Opening Day roster. With his right side overcompensating for lingering weakness on the left, Reimold was placed on the disabled list May 18 -- retroactive to May 12 -- with a right hamstring strain that nagged him throughout camp. Though he was activated earlier this month, he never looked quite right.
"There's a 95 percent success rate," Reimold said of his surgery. "I couldn't tell you what happened with mine. I saw the X-rays and it looked like it was fused, but it can't be fused and then become unfused. That's not the way it works.
"Mine showed signs that it was fusing, it just apparently wasn't fusing, and when I started putting stress on it something happened."
"I could tell the last couple games something just wasn't firing," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Reimold, who hit for a .195/.250/.336 slash line in 40 games this season. "It's kind of sad in a way, but you want to get it right. First of all, you just want to get his daily day-to-day activities and just living his life right. And the baseball part of it, I'm told, should come."
Reimold said he never had any neck pain this season, just some discomfort, which he chalked up to a normal part of the recovery process. His greater concern, which prompted the tests, was that his arm strength was still lagging behind.
"It's very frustrating," Reimold said of the whole process. "The injury was pretty tough to swallow, and when you think you're better and going to get over the hump, and you find out you weren't better -- you were just playing without it healed the whole way. And now I have to do this because of it -- it's pretty frustrating. "
So, too, are the whispers of Reimold -- who hasn't played more than 87 big league games in a season since his rookie year in 2009 -- being injury-prone.
"This isn't a new injury, I didn't injure my neck again," he said. "This was out of the blue, this was unexpected. I had a lot of improvement with my arm and everything, it just wasn't getting over the hump, so I wanted to get it checked out. And that's when they found this.
"I definitely was not right. The back of my shoulder and my upper arm healed fine. ... I did it because I wanted to find out if there was a way to get my forearm, bicep over the hump of the weakness that I was still feeling. It was getting a little bit worse -- that's why I wanted to get it checked out. It was a big surprise. I was pretty shocked when I talked to the doctor on the phone and he told me what he saw."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.