Communications and leadership key for Royals Salvador Perez this year
Royals six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove catcher Salvador Perez’s season may be in doubt because of an elbow injury on his throwing arm.
The team announced prior to Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that Perez had an MRI on Thursday, which showed damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. He’ll travel to Los Angeles next week to receive a second opinion from surgeon Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday.
The Royals are saying that Perez has ligament damage, but made a point not to characterize it as a tear or partial at this point. They are sticking to phrasing “ligament damage” until he’s gotten the second opinion, though surgery is a possible outcome.
“When we get the second opinion we’ll know more,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “There’s ligament damage right now.”
Yost said Perez experienced elbow soreness in January when he progressed in his offseason throwing program. At that time, Perez came to Kansas City to meet with Royals head athletic trainer Nick Kenney and had an MRI. After that January MRI, the Royals medical staff determined Perez had a flexor strain, and Perez’s offseason throwing program was shut down for four weeks.
After being shut down in early January, Perez was cleared to start throwing when he arrived in Arizona and he’d been throwing in spring training workouts.
Yost and Kenney said Perez had been doing well with the throwing program in spring training and even ramped up both his swinging the bat and throwing to the point where they were discussing when to get him into a game at catcher as opposed to just as a designated hitter.
However, Perez felt soreness after doing live batting practice, and an MRI this week showed ligament damage.
“He has ligament damage, and obviously there’s different grades at this point,” Kenney said. “We’re weighing all of our options to see what our next step is.”
Pitchers are most commonly associated with these injuries, as UCL tears often require Tommy John surgery in order to repair the elbow ligament. It’s not totally uncommon for position players to have the surgery in order to repair the ligament. The recovery and rehab time on that surgery could extend a year.
Angels pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani injured his UCL in June. The Angels rested Ohtani and had him undergo platelet-rich-plasma and stem-cell injections before allowing him to resume the season exclusively as a designated hitter.
Perez, 28, did not play in Thursday’s game after serving as designated hitter the previous day. Yost had said last week that he hadn’t planned to have Perez catch for at least the first two weeks of spring training games because Perez is a veteran with plenty of experience.
Perez, who batted in the cleanup spot in 76 games last season, hit 27 home runs and had 80 RBIs while batting .235 with a .274 on-base percentage and a .439 slugging percentage while also winning the AL Gold Glove for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
The unanimous MVP of the 2015 World Series, Perez and left fielder Alex Gordon along with infielder Whit Merrifield were viewed as the leaders of a team that features a lot of young players still trying to establish themselves in the majors. Perez and Gordon were prominent figures in the postseason runs in both 2014 and 2015.
If Perez will be sidelined for an extended period of time, the presumptive starter appears to be Cam Gallagher. Gallagher, 26, came into camp as the backup catcher behind Perez. Gallagher, a second-round pick in 2011, has spent the majority of his professional career in the minors.
Gallagher has played 35 major-league games with a .218/.274/.333 slash line.
“He did a really nice job for us last year,” Yost said of Gallagher earlier in camp. “I like his ability. He was a young guy last year that caught like a veteran. By that I mean I could put him in any situation with any pitcher. He handled the situation fine. He’s a guy that does his homework. He’s prepared when he gets in the game for that starting pitcher. And he swings the bat good enough for us.
“We got to a point last year where (general manager) Dayton (Moore) and I sat down and said you know it’s Cam’s turn. It’s his time. He’s worked hard. He’s developed into a solid defensive catcher at the big leagues. It’s time for him to back Salvy up.”
The other catcher on the Royals’ 40-man roster is Meibrys Viloria, who played 10 games with the big-league club at the end of last season after being called up from High-A Wilmington.
MJ Melendez, one of the top-rated prospects in the Royals system, and highly-regarded defensive catcher Sebastian Rivero are in big-league camp. But neither has played above Low-A in the minors.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Friday evening that Tommy John surgery has been recommended for Perez and the Royals have already reached out to free-agent catcher Martin Maldonado. Maldonado, who won the AL Gold Glove in 2017, played 119 games last season between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels.