NEW YORK — The mere mention of Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright sent Royals catcher Sal Perez into a slight panic.
“Oh my God,” Perez said Wednesday morning at Citi Field, “Is he starting?”
Well, no — it is too early to know whether Wright will even make the American League All-Star team, much less start the game.
Perez, though, is the runaway leader in the fan balloting for AL catcher, while Wright is the surprising AL leader with a 2.03 ERA.
So, the possibility exists that Perez will catch knuckleballs for the first time in the All-Star Game, risking the embarrassment of the pitches eluding him on a national stage.
Perez, one of the game’s most good-natured players, seemed half-amused, half-concerned by the prospect.
“You made me scared a little bit,” Perez said, chuckling. “Maybe they need to bring somebody from Boston to catch him for one inning, two innings. I’ve never caught a knuckle-baller before. And I hear his is a little different, a little harder than (R.A.) Dickey’s.”
Yes, the AL will face something of a problem if Wright pitches in the game.
“A big problem,” Perez said, chuckling again.
AL manager Ned Yost, Perez’s manager with the Royals, said he already has considered the possibility of Wright starting the game, which is two weeks from Tuesday in San Diego.
“We’re well away from that. But he has a case. He has a case to be the starter,” Yost said. “We’ll see between now and then.”
Wright’s first chance to make the team will be in the player balloting. Yost could make him a manager’s selection if the AL players elect other pitchers.
“He very well could be voted in. If not, you’ve got to definitely look at his merit as an extra pick,” Yost said.
And who would catch Wright?
“Salvy’s never caught one, but I’ve got the utmost confidence that he could catch him,” Yost said. “I also might have to find somebody who has experience as a knuckleball catcher if he makes the team.”
Yost might have a problem with that.
All-Star teams generally feature three catchers. The Red Sox’s catchers, Ryan Hanigan and Christian Vazquez, are not All-Star caliber. The Blue Jays’ Russell Martin caught Dickey 21 times last season, but Josh Thole is handling that role this season. Besides, Martin is batting .216 with a .623 OPS.
After Perez, the Orioles’ Matt Wieters probably is the most deserving AL catcher, with the Yankees’ Brian McCann and Athletics’ Stephen Vogt among the other possibilities.
Yost, a former major-league catcher himself, is confident that Perez would be fine catching Wright.
“He can handle it. I caught knuckleballers before. If anybody can catch ‘em, this kid can catch ‘em,” Yost said.
“It’s interesting. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Salvy’s never caught (a knuckleballer), but I’ve got the utmost confidence that he could catch him.