Working back from injuries, Brewers' Ward cherishing time in AFL

November 5th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A lot was on Je’Von Ward’s mind as he took his time trotting up the first-base line and watched a ball off his bat sail deep into the Scottsdale night. 

There was the Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in September 2021. There was the torn left knee he suffered in his first game back at extended spring training in May. There was the fact that this was his first home run in a competitive environment since Aug. 12, 2021, with High-A Wisconsin. 

So yeah, a little staring was in order. 

“It’s been a while, man,” Ward said. “It feels so good just to be able to do that again. Seriously, just to feel that again and to be able to admire that, there’s no greater feeling.” 

The Brewers prospect finished 2-for-4 with the homer and two RBIs Friday to lead Glendale to a 6-1 win over Scottsdale at Scottsdale Stadium.

The long ball came in Ward’s first at-bat of the evening when he faced Giants southpaw Carson Whisenhunt in the second inning. The left-handed slugger worked a full count and then got a fastball up in the zone that he could yank and send through the Charro Lodge in right field. 

“It felt pretty good,” Ward said. “But honestly left on left, I’m just trying to stay over the middle of the field. He happened to throw a ball in, and I got to it. At this point, we just trust our abilities, and that’s what I did.” 

The two-run dinger produced the first extra-base hit and runs charged to Whisenhunt in the Fall League. San Francisco’s 2022 second-rounder was coming off a scoreless two-inning, five-strikeout debut for the Scorpions last Saturday and didn’t pitch to another batter after Ward’s homer.

The 23-year-old outfielder added a single in the eighth inning to give himself his second multihit game of the Fall League. The other came almost one month ago on Oct. 8, also in a road game at Scottsdale. The performance pushed Ward’s slash line to .229/.400/.400 through 45 plate appearances. 

The AFL is often treated as a circuit for players who are looking to make up for lost innings or at-bats, but in most cases, those players have actually accrued some innings or at-bats during the previous regular season. Ward’s Tommy John surgery came after he played with a torn UCL in his throwing elbow for much of the 2021 season. That forced him to play a lot of DH down the stretch and likely affected his .259/.312/.387 line and five-homer total over 75 games with Wisconsin that year. The knee injury that followed this spring couldn’t have been more poorly timed based on his scheduled return to action. 

Ward was still rehabbing at the Brewers’ Spring Training complex when Milwaukee farm director Tom Flanagan called him with an offer to get some playing time in the AFL. This was in mid-September. Fall League Opening Day was on Oct. 3. 

“I almost cried actually when he told me,” Ward said, “because this is something I wanted to do for a really long time. I've had a lot of friends play in it. But just being able to do it, it's a blessing.”

It’s great when the results do come, as they did Friday night. But as a player who put in months of rehab on his elbow and then months of rehab on his knee -- he’s still getting daily physical therapy on that front -- Ward isn’t getting too lost in the nightly box scores. The fact that his name is in them at all is a great starting place. 

And sure, the occasional homer and celebratory bat flip are good too. 

“Just for me to get in there and not feel awkward or anything, I’ll take that right now,” Ward said. “I’m trusting my process. I’ve put in the work. I’m just enjoying it right now. That’s all I’m going to do.” 

Red Sox No. 4 prospect Nick Yorke went 3-for-5 with a double out of the leadoff spot for the losing Scottsdale side. No. 9 Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad went 3-for-4 and ironically finished one homer shy of the cycle a day before he’s scheduled to compete in the AFL Home Run Derby in Mesa.