PAPILLION, Neb. — Sometimes, if you wait long enough in this crazy game, karma comes back around. The Kansas City Royals have won three straight series. Over their last 10 games, they’re 7-3.
The Local Nine head into this weekend’s dance card with St. Louis just four games behind first-place Cleveland in the loss column. The All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium is almost within sight, which means America will finally get the chance to see what happens when Bill Self, Jon Hamm and Horatio Sanz come together on the same field at the same time. (In all likelihood, nothing, but America can dream.) Throw in the fact that the battle for the American League Central has turned into the world’s largest pillow fight, and there’s a genuine consensus in the air that this team could be buyers, not sellers, come July.
And, maybe, most uplifting of all, comes this kicker: Big Sal is starting to feel like his old self again.
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“I feel great. I don’t feel (anything) in my knee,” Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who tore the meniscus in his left knee on March 14, told FOXSports.com earlier this week.
“No pain. (I’m) not tired. I’ll catch my second back-to-back games (Tuesday and Wednesday). When I feel 100 percent, maybe (I’ll) go up again.”
So what percent are you now?
“Now I feel like 90-95 (percent). I feel pretty close. Yeah, pretty close.”
Close enough that he could soon be on his way back to The Show. After catching back-to-back games with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, the big Venezuelan didn’t appear in Thursday’s night tilt against Memphis, leading to speculation a return to Kansas City was in the works. The 6-foot-3 backstop had been on a rehab assignment in Omaha since June 7, hitting .340 with seven RBI over 12 appearances with the farm club.
“He looks great, swinging the bat well,” Storm Chasers hitting coach Tommy Gregg offered. “Haven’t heard him say anything about his leg or his knee. So as it is right now, he looks good. His work in the cage is good with his swing, and he’s catching fine, so it’s just a matter of time — whenever they think he’s ready or he thinks he’s ready.”
Royals faithful have been ready, and eager, for Perez since Opening Day. Consider that Baseball-Reference.com credited Perez in 2011 with 1.4 WAR — or Wins Above Replacement (Player) — in 39 contests. The Royals’ current catching platoon, Humberto Quintero and Brayan Pena, hasn’t fared as well; Quintero has been credited with 0.4 WAR in 42 appearances this season, while Pena checks in at a negative-0.3 over 38 games.
By all accounts, Perez is already making up for lost time at the dish: He collected five hits against Round Rock on June 8 and was 4 for 4 with three runs scored on Wednesday afternoon.
“So there’s no rush — there can’t be any rush with him,” Gregg noted. “He’s too young to rush up there. You’ve got to make sure he’s 100 percent.”
Perez hit .339 in 148 at-bats with the big club last summer and had signed a five-year contract extension in February. He’s a cornerstone. You don’t rush cornerstones.
“When you feel ready, you feel 100 percent, you want to be up there,” the catcher said. “But really, you have to take the time (to get right), and that’s the hard part for me. When you feel really good, when you catch the first game in Arizona, you think, ‘Oh, I feel fine in my knee.’ I just want to play right now.”
Despite the catcher’s frustrations, slow and steady seem to have won the day to this point. Perez has caught eight games with Omaha since his rehab assignment began, but the plan has been to ease his knees back through the grind of working behind the plate on a daily basis.
“My trainer, he wants nothing in my knee, no pain or anything,” Perez said. “But I feel good right now.”
With Big Sal coming back into the fold, Royals fans are starting to feel even better.