With one swing, Alford back on right track

March 1st, 2021

For Pirates outfielder , it was nerve-wracking to play against the Blue Jays during Monday’s 2-2 tie in Dunedin, Fla. After all, he spent seven-plus seasons with Toronto's organization before he was dealt to Pittsburgh last summer.

“They are like family,” Alford said about the Blue Jays. “To go out there and compete against them was a lot of fun.”

The nervousness left Alford by the second inning. As the designated hitter, Alford hit his first home run of the spring -- a solo shot over the center-field wall off left-hander Robbie Ray -- and finished 1-for-2 at the plate.

After the game, Alford talked about his brief time with the Pirates. He fractured his right elbow in just his fifth game with the team, crashing into the outfield wall while trying to chase down a home run hit by Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart on Sept. 6, 2020.

Alford had surgery to correct the injury two days later, then missed the rest of the season and rehabbed in the offseason. He said the elbow is not 100 percent. Alford has been throwing at distances up to 150 feet, and he hopes to be able to play defense soon and battle for a spot in the outfield. He had one minor setback during the beginning of camp -- tightness in his surgically repaired elbow -- but it wasn’t considered serious.

“I’m throwing really well. I hope to be throwing in the field soon,” he said. “I never really shied away from competition. ... I was feeling good when I was playing in Pittsburgh. I was playing free and having fun in the short time I was there.

“Once I got hurt, it was an emotional time for me. That was the first chance I got to play that much as far as consecutive days in the big leagues. … I’m looking forward to getting fully healthy, competing and helping this ballclub win.”

The elbow injury was not Alford’s first major setback. While attending Petal (Miss.) High School in 2010, Alford tore his right ACL while playing football. He is often reminded of the hard work he had to put in to recover.

“The biggest thing coming back from an injury like that, it’s more of a mental thing you have to get through,” Alford said. “I think that’s what I’m getting through now. Just knowing your arm is healed. You just go out there and let it go. Obviously, easier said than done.”