Barnhart led off the third by launching a fly ball into the shrubbery beyond the center-field fence. Alford ran after it and leaped hard into the fence and came down holding his right elbow. Alford exited the game, with Cole Tucker taking his place in center field.
On Sunday morning, the Pirates placed Alford on the 45-day injured list, officially ending his season. Manager Derek Shelton said they will determine a prognosis and treatment plan for Alford in the coming days.
The injury comes at a particularly frustrating time for the 26-year-old Alford, who was finally getting a chance to play regularly in Pittsburgh after years of bouncing between Triple-A and the Majors in Toronto. The Pirates were excited to acquire him off waivers last week, believing the former top prospect had untapped upside at the plate to go along with his speed on the bases and athleticism in the outfield.
“Honestly, it makes me a little sick to my stomach,” manager Derek Shelton said. “Knowing the opportunity that he has right now, then even more so knowing the person and the kid. Just to see the pain and anguish in his eyes, it’s difficult. It’s something that we have to move through, but I definitely feel for him.”
Alford made an impact in the Pirates’ 4-3 win over the Reds on Friday night, hitting a two-run triple and scoring from third on a wild pitch that barely bounced away from home plate. Afterward, he spoke excitedly about working with Shelton and hitting coach Rick Eckstein, who had already helped him rediscover some mechanical tweaks that made him successful in the Minors in 2017.
“I didn’t know he hurt his elbow that bad until after the game when we found out the news,” starter Trevor Williams said. “He was playing really well for us, and I was excited to see him in center field today for the start. I’m hoping that he’s going to be healthy for Spring Training. It sounded like he is. I’m excited to see what he can bring and add to our team in Spring Training.”
Tucker will be the Pirates’ primary center fielder the rest of the season. To provide depth in the outfield, they recalled outfielder Jason Martin from their alternate training site on Sunday.
The Pirates have been dealt a number of tough blows on the injury front this year. They entered the season knowing they would be without starters Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and Chris Archer (neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome) along with utility man Kevin Kramer (hip surgery). Less than a week before Opening Day, they lost backup catcher Luke Maile due to a fractured right index finger.
“I think when we have injuries, we just have to build on the opportunity. We’re seeing guys that are stepping up and doing things. We’ve talked about opportunity a lot,” Shelton said. “We just have to continue to move past it, kind of challenge guys to seize the opportunity and then, when we do get back to full strength, it’s going to make for good competition and interesting conversation.”
Early this season, Pittsburgh lost three right-handed relievers -- Nick Burdi, Michael Feliz and Clay Holmes -- for the rest of the year due to forearm/elbow injuries. On Aug. 8, infielder Phillip Evans, their hottest hitter at that point, sustained a concussion and broke his jaw after colliding with right fielder Gregory Polanco.
The Pirates have also gone for extended stretches this season without closer Keone Kela, reliever Kyle Crick, starter Mitch Keller and reliever Yacksel Rios. Now, they’ll play their final 22 games of the season without Alford.
“It’s one of those things where you just kind of have to put your head down and step up for guys that aren’t there,” Williams said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for certain guys to be the next man up, to perform at that level. We’ve seen it with the starting pitchers we’ve brought up. We’ve seen it with the relievers and guys who have fallen into their roles now as relievers, and they’re running with it.
“It’s one of those things, man. Injuries happen. You just hope they don’t happen as often as they are this season.”