The sequence confirmed the blessed fortune shining on the Royals, even as the events hinted at the organization’s darkest fear. In the seventh inning of a 6-4 victory over Minnesota on Monday, Salvador Perez stood inside the dugout with his shirt untucked and his right knee sore. It was his turn to bat. He would not. Instead Erik Kratz, a 34-year-old backup acquired last month, headed to the plate.
“That’s one of the reasons we got him,” manager Ned Yost said. “We knew that he had power.”
Kratz jumped on the first pitch he saw, allowing the team a moment to forget about Perez’s condition. The impact shattered his bat. His power still propelled the baseball over the left-field fence. For good measure, he boomed a second homer in the ninth, giving him his first career multihomer game, and temporarily obscuring the concern over Perez’s knee.
The team phrased the injury as “discomfort” as the game wound down. A club official relayed that Perez was removed as a “precautionary measure.” The Royals listed his availability as “day to day.” Perez missed 67 games after tearing his left meniscus in the spring of 2012.
Never miss a local story.
Perez “pinched” his patella tendon as he rounded second base shortly after his two-run single in the fifth, Yost said. He caught two more innings. As he usually does, he insisted he could play Tuesday at Coors Field in Denver. Yost stressed there was no structural damage to the joint. “Just tight,” Perez said.
The injury sullied an otherwise tidy evening. The Royals (69-55) nabbed their eighth consecutive series victory. Jason Vargas (10-5, 3.17 ERA) extended his streak of scoreless innings to 17 before yielding a solo homer in the seventh. He lasted seven innings in all, allowing only four hits along the way, as his teammates returned to normalcy after an eventful four days at Target Field.
A bothersome outing by Greg Holland mitigated the happiness of Friday’s victory. The offense sputtered on Saturday, then dropped a dozen runs on their rain-soaked foes the next afternoon. On Monday evening, amid another brief shower, the Royals resembled the club that has raced past Detroit in the American League Central.
The hitters punished an erratic rookie starter. Perez came through with a two-run single, and Billy Butler followed with a run-scoring hit of his own in the fifth. Vargas shined in his clinical manner. Kratz crushed the two late-game long balls to pad the advantage. After Aaron Crow surrendered a three-run blast in the ninth, Holland emerged from the bullpen for his 38th save.
“He came in, banging strikes, with good stuff,” Yost said. “Closed it out for us.”
The pitching matchup favored the Royals. Vargas returned to the mound after his finest outing as a Royal. He had spun a three-hit shutout against Oakland on Wednesday. On Monday he looked in danger of allowing a run in the first frame.
Twins leadoff man Danny Santana singled, advanced to second on a groundball and stole third. But there he lingered, stranded when Vargas struck out Joe Mauer with a changeup and let Kennys Vargas hit a harmless infield fly for the third out. From there, Vargas settled into a groove.
Asked what was working on the mound, Vargas shied away from the credit. “The infielders and outfielders’ gloves,” he said. “They were able to catch the ball and make all the plays.”
Vargas squared off with Minnesota rookie Trevor May, a 24-year-old once considered a mid-tier prospect. It was his second big-league start. In his first, nine days prior, he had walked seven Athletics and yielded four runs in two innings.
Facing the Royals, May lost his command in the fifth. He issued walks to Alcides Escobar, Jarrod Dyson and Omar Infante. The third free pass occurred with two outs. Up to the plate strode Perez, who promptly swung at the first pitch, a thigh-high slider. A two-run single nestled into the center-field grass.
The next batter was Butler. He roped the next pitch into center for another RBI single, a run aided by the Twins’ incompetence. Infante braked as he rounded third and checked the outfield before re-engaging in a sprint homeward. Santana made a strong peg, but backup catcher Eric Fryer fumbled the catch. Infante tip-toed across the plate.
Perez dinged himself in that rally. Kratz filled the void. His arrival last month marked the reorganization of the club’s bench. The Royals acquired him from Toronto in exchange for Danny Valencia. Christian Colon replaced Valencia as a more versatile backup infielder. Kratz offers more power than Brett Hayes, Perez’s backup for much of the season.
His role is unique. Perez is a fixture in the lineup. His off-days are rare. But Kratz still insists on staying fresh each evening.
“You put your work in before the game as a bench guy to be ready to go in,” Kratz said. “Some people could say ‘Well, Salvy plays every day. So why not take a day off?’ My opinion is: What’s the point of taking the day off if that’s the day you might come in and play.”
The strength was on display with both of his swings. The broken-bat homer impressed Yost. The second homer cleared the fence in center, even if his bat stayed intact.
“The next person is just ready to step up,” Vargas said. “Salvy is a huge part of our team. But at the same time, we’ve got to keep him healthy, and keep him in there for the long haul. For Kratz to come in and step up and go big fly twice, it was pretty nice.”