CLEVELAND — During his first four weeks as the Indians’ regular catcher, Roberto Perez was feeling a bit overwhelmed. The rotation was struggling and he put a lot of the blame on himself.
As the rotation has gained more consistency the past two weeks, Perez’s confidence level has grown. The game has slowed down a bit and Perez feels like he is on the same page with everyone.
In Friday’s 7-3 win over the Reds, Perez had a solid all-around game. He got Carlos Carrasco through a couple rough patches, threw out two Reds runners on attempted steals and had his first triple in the majors.
"I was thrilled for him because he’s had his share of frustrations the last couple of weeks. I know that’s going to make him feel better," manager Terry Francona said. "When a guy works that hard behind the plate, you want to see him have a little bit of success hitting too."
Since May 10, Cleveland starters have gone 6-2 with a 2.85 ERA, which is fifth in the majors according to STATS LLC. Carlos Carrasco, who allowed two runs on four hits in six innings, is tied for the team lead in wins with five.
When Perez was called up last season, the only pitcher he caught on a regular basis was TJ House, who he had a rapport with throughout their time in the minors. Since Yan Gomes knee injury on April 11, Perez has had to get up to speed on all of them.
"I think I was trying to put pressure on myself and I was just thinking too much instead of going out and playing the game," Perez said. "You catch them in spring training but it is different. You are a backup but just prepare for when Gomes had a day off."
From the time he was called up, Indians coaches have talked about how good of a defensive catcher Perez was, but he has struggled with balls low in the zone. Since Gomes injury, the Indians have had 16 wild pitches, which is tied for 10th in the majors.
Francona has talked to Perez numerous times to let him know that he wasn’t in this alone. However there was something that Perez said that told Francona about the pressure that he felt.
Francona added: "He said something that kind of hit me. ‘When Gomes went down that is when the pitching started to struggle a bit and that has never happened to me before because that’s been my strength.’ For a kid that young to feel the ownership of the staff I was real impressed. He felt the responsibility of commanding that staff."
Perez has made it a point to try and have the same relationship with the pitching staff that Gomes has with them, but that takes time. The gap has narrowed a bit through frequent conversations the night before and during games, especially between innings.
On Friday, Perez’s main point to Carrasco was making him use his changeup more since the Reds are an aggressive swinging team. Carrasco struck out nine and is averaging 7.4 strikeouts in his five May starts.
"I’m not trying to do too much, make them attack the strike zone," Perez said. "My strength is catching, calling a good game and running the game. I think I got better at that."
Before Friday’s game, Perez spent some extra time in the indoor batting cages practicing throwing to second. The Reds came into the game with 43 steals in 50 attempts. Perez caught Jay Bruce in the fourth and then Zack Cozart to end the fifth.
It is the second time in Perez’s career that he has thrown out two runners attempting to steal. On the season he has thrown out 7 of 25 attempted base stealers (28 percent).
"It’s part of my game," Perez said. "I love throwing people out, especially over there they run a lot. I was getting ready for them to steal."
At the plate, Perez drew two walks for the second straight game but also tripled in the seventh and later scored on a Jason Kipnis single. Perez is batting .182, which is the lowest average among regulars in the Indians’ lineup, but there have been some signs of improvement the past week.
Perez’s improvement coincides with Gomes’ impending return to the lineup. Gomes caught all nine innings at Columbus on Friday and should be in Cleveland on Saturday. Barring a major setback, Gomes could be in the lineup on Sunday.
Francona said that there was some talk of bringing Gomes up on Saturday since Corey Kluber is on the mound but with Gomes already quickly coming back that might be a bit too much.
Gomes suffered a moderate sprain to the MCL in his right knee on a play at the plate during the ninth inning of the April 11 game against Detroit. When Gomes was placed on the disabled list three days later the Indians said it would take 6-8 weeks for him to come back.
"If he came back too soon we would be kicking ourselves," Francona said. "We need to use common sense. I think James (trainer James Quinlan) and Sandy (first-base coach Sandy Alomar) thought one more game (in Columbus) would be better."
Perez will still get more opportunities than usual as a backup when Gomes returns. Gomes is not expected to catch every day at first and will be the designated hitter some games.
"It made me better especially now that it was my first time playing every day up here," Perez said. "Gomes is a real good catcher and game caller. I think I got better at that and now I can concentrate on hitting better."