Royals welcome back Perez
It turns out that Royals manager Mike Matheny has great respect for the cosmic power of the jinx. He knew his All-Star catcher, Salvador Perez, had been cleared to rejoin the team Tuesday when he spoke to reporters but hadn't yet seen Perez with his own eyes.
So Matheny smiled, hinted and gave the indication he was returning without actually saying those words. The idea of "getting the cart in front of the horse" made him hold off on announcing the news that is much-needed for a club that saw all three of its catchers on the 40-man roster sidelined within the first eight days of spring training 2.0.
Tuesday night Perez, who tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, returned from isolation to rejoin the club and took part in the club's intrasquad scrimmage at Kauffman Stadium.
Stepping to the plate for the first time in a semi-game-like scenario since Cactus League play was suspended in March, he swatted an RBI single into center field.
"I was in the on-deck circle and I was like at least I need to touch the ball first," Perez said of his initial at-bat. "After that, we go from there. (Jakob) Junis gave me a fastball down the middle, and I hit it pretty good."
Perez, a six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, said he doesn't think it will take him too long to regain his timing at the plate. He estimated three or four days of at-bats in camp will be sufficient.
The MVP of the 2015 World Series, Perez missed the entire 2019 season while rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he had on his throwing elbow in March 2019.
He caught and played in Cactus League games during spring training in Arizona in February and March. He did not catch during Tuesday night's intrasquad, but he did take part in drills before the game. And he is expected to catch during Wednesday night's intrasquad.
"I wanted to be here from the first day," Perez said. "After I showed up positive for COVID, I had to stay home. It was kind of hard to see everything happening here with the catchers. It was kind of hard, but the good thing is I'm back and we're good."
Perez said he remained asymptomatic throughout his time in isolation at his Lee's Summit home. He said if not for the test, he wouldn't have known he even had the virus.
He's still not sure how he contracted COVID. His family and friends in Miami have not tested positive. He said he traveled from his offseason home in Miami to Kansas City with teammates Jorge Soler and M.J. Melendez, who have both been cleared to work out with the team throughout camp.
"I feel like I (haven't) played baseball in two years," Perez said. "When (trainer) Nick (Kenney) called me the other day and told me, 'You're free to come,' I felt like it was my first day when they called me to the big leagues. I'm excited. I can't wait for the season to start. I know in 60 games anything can happen."
Perez, who had to show a negative result in two consecutive tests in order to rejoin the team, said he also had to get clearance from a four-person medical committee before he could return to the ballpark.
Since he was not allowed at Kauffman Stadium, his tests were conducted at his home. Perez said it was Kenney who informed him that he'd tested positive for the coronavirus antibodies.
In 2017, Perez posted career highs for home runs (27) and RBIs (80), and he equaled those totals the next season.
In 2018, he also ranked first among AL catchers in fielding percentage (1.000), double plays turned (11) and Total Zone Runs (8). He also ranked second in caught-stealing (48.1 percent).
Perez's 127 career home runs as a catcher are the fourth-most in the majors since his debut in 2011, and his 744 starts at catcher since 2013 are third-most, behind only Yadier Molina (871) and Jonathan Lucroy (769).
"I'm really impressed with how sharp he has stayed," Matheny said. "They were bouncing some balls at him in the pen (Tuesday) that on my best day (as a player) I'm probably not getting in front of, and he's bouncing around. He was quick. His reaction time looked great. His legs look strong.
"He stayed in great physical condition. And we see him walk up there in that first at-bat with men on first and third and he hits a line-drive up the middle."