Back from the Classic, Perez excited for season

Back from the Classic, Perez excited for season

PHOENIX -- The Royals' clubhouse had the volume turned up a bit on Tuesday morning. Back was the booming voice, the big presence and the beaming smile of catcher Salvador Perez.

Perez returned from playing for Venezuela, eliminated over the weekend in the World Baseball Classic, and immediately set to work. He put his gear back in his locker, pulled on his uniform, climbed on a bus and caught No. 1 starter James Shields in an afternoon game against the Athletics.

"It's good to be back here. I'm going to do my normal stuff and get ready now for Opening Day," he said.

Perez was away just eight days.

"If anything, it breaks the routine of Spring Training, and I think it's a positive for him to be playing for Venezuela," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "Unfortunately for them, they didn't get a chance to play much further, but we're glad to have him back."

Perez guided Shields through three perfect innings on Tuesday before the A's struck for four runs on six hits in his 4 2/3 innings, in what became a 6-3 Royals loss. This is the second time they'd worked together in a Cactus League game.

"He's good," Shields said. "Obviously we've got a little bit of time to work together. Hopefully he can catch the rest of my games the rest of Spring Training so we can get on the right page and we don't have to do anything during the season. But it's good to have him back."

So far there have been a few times that Shields shook off a sign from Perez.

"That's normal stuff," Shields said. "For the most part, we talk between innings and I kind of let him know exactly what I want in certain situations, and he did great today."

At bat on Tuesday, Perez doubled in three times up and is now 9-for-24 (.375) in Cactus League play.

He played in two of the three games for the 1-2 Venezuela team, catching one full game and the last two innings of the team finale, sharing the job with the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero. At bat, Perez went 1-for-5 with a double in the Classic.

"I had a good time with that team. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot," he said. "I enjoyed that. I want to do it again in 2017."

The best news about Perez in this camp is that his left knee is sound. He hasn't had any problems.

"Nada," he said. "The knee's still good right now. Mucho bueno."

That wasn't the case last year when, just after he'd signed a five-year contract through 2016, he injured his knee while warming up pitcher Jonathan Sanchez before a game. It was almost exactly one year ago -- March 13, 2012.

Surgery kept him out of the Royals' lineup until June 22, while the Royals filled in with Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero, both of whom are now with other teams. It was a big blow for the Royals, who had counted heavily on Perez after his short (39 games) but superb showing as a rookie in 2011.

His return last year was crucial for manager Ned Yost. He felt that Perez had a definite impact on the lineup.

"It was a way different feel," Yost said at the time. "That's why when he went down, going into Spring Training that was my worst nightmare. I never thought it would happen and when it happens, it's like 'Whoa!' "

Perez last year played 76 games, batted .301 and had 11 home runs, 16 doubles and 39 RBIs. More importantly, he brought his game-calling prowess and defensive skills behind the plate.

"He understands how to call a game. He understands the game plan, he understands the pitchers and their stuff -- what they can do and what they can't," Yost said.

Despite catching just 74 games, Perez executed a Major League-best five pickoffs, two more than anyone else. He now has eight pickoffs, which is already a career record for a Royals catcher.

"One of the commonalities of any good baseball team is a quality catcher, somebody that gives the pitching staff a lot of confidence and kind of sets the tone for the defense," Moore said. "Salvy has a lot of those ingredients, he has those types of abilities. He's got a lot of potential."

Not that it takes much to get Perez revved up, but the Royals' success so far in the Cactus League has him looking ahead to the season. There's one important difference, too. He expects to play in his first Opening Day against the White Sox on April 1.

"This year I can be there on Opening Day, and I'm excited," he said. "I like to play in Chicago."

Nothing wrong with his knee or anything else this year.

"I feel mucho bueno," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.