Salvy Perez and James Shields huddled up between the plate and the mound Wednesday afternoon after their latest collaboration at one of the cloverleaf diamonds on the edge of the Royals’ complex.
They did much the same thing two days earlier after Shields completed a bullpen workout. On that occasion, Shields walked to the plate and squatted down near Perez for a quiet conversation.
“He was telling me how he likes to pitch,” Perez said. “You do that with everybody. With him, it’s easy. Anybody who throws strikes is easy to catch.”
It is part of the routine get-acquainted process whenever a battery teams up for the first time. Perez anticipates similar sessions with the Royals’ two other new starting pitchers — Ervin Santana and Wade Davis.
Normally, spring training offers the perfect setting for a catcher to go on a crash-course learning curve with three new faces in the rotation. But this spring is different; Perez will depart camp in early March to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Even so, he anticipates few problems.
“I’ve faced those three guys,” Perez said, “and I know — a little bit — how they like to pitch. And remember, the (Cactus League) games start early, on (Feb.) 22. I’ll have 10 days of catching in game before I have to leave for the WBC.”
How long Perez is absent will depend on Venezuela’s success. It might be just a week if he and his countrymen fail to finish first or second in a four-team pool play that also includes Puerto Rico, Spain and the Dominican Republic in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
But it could be nearly three weeks if Venezuela advances to the March 19 title game in San Francisco.
“Losing Sal …” manager Ned Yost said. “You’d like Sal to be here (the whole time) with the new guys, but I don’t worry about that. Sal catches on real quick. Salvy is not going to be a concern for me.
“It is what it is. We’ve got several guys going. They enjoy it. They go do it, and then come back. It means a lot to them to play for their country.”
The Royals have six players from their camp roster, counting Perez, competing in the WBC: Tim Collins with the United States, Kelvin Herrera and Miguel Tejada with the Dominican Republic; Luis Mendoza with Mexico; Irving Falu with Puerto Rico.
None is as potentially disruptive to the Royals’ spring as Perez not being around.
“It won’t be a problem,” he insisted. “Besides…”
Perez then broke into a big smile and barked out one of his deep-bass laughs.
“Besides,” he repeated. “I just need to tell them to keep the ball down. That’s it. Do that, and I’ll catch it.”