GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Roberto Perez waited for his turn and vows to make the most of his big chance.
Perez figures to get plenty of time behind the plate for the Cleveland Indians after the AL Central champions traded All-Star Yan Gomes to Washington.
The 30-year-old Perez is eager to get going.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It was something I’ve always wanted. I knew Yan was the guy but now that I have the opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Perez arrived in July 2014 from Triple-A after the Indians moved Carlos Santana to first base. Perez was promoted to take advantage of his defensive skill and the next season led the major leagues by throwing out 16 of the 41 runners attempting to steal — that 39 percent rate was tops among catchers with at least 40 tries.
Although he hasn’t hit much in his career, with a .205 batting average to go along with 21 home runs and 99 RBIs in 285 games, Perez was known for handling Cleveland’s young, talented pitching staff.
“The biggest thing is defensively and running the game, getting the right fingers down,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He can get the pitchers through not just the easy part but the difficult parts. He is extremely prepared for that.”
“We all feel with regular at-bats, he’s going to hit better,” he said. “Even if he doesn’t hit like Gomes, we still believe in the way he runs the game. That’s first and foremost as a catcher.”
Francona’s statement takes the pressure that Perez felt at the plate in spite of his two-homer performance in the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, playing in all seven games. Perez has four home runs in the postseason.
“Playing once a week is tough,” Perez said. “There are no excuses, but this game is hard even for the guys that play every day.”
“When I was behind Yan, I would play once or twice a week. It is easier when you know you’re going to play the next day. You can make adjustments. You can go 0 for 4 and you can say I’ll get them the next day instead of trying to get three hits in one at-bat.”
To improve his batting eye, Perez went to the Dominican Republic for winter ball. He hit .333 for Licey in 24 games with four doubles, a home run and 11 RBIs.
There is more of a burden on him to help the team offensively after Yonder Alonso was traded to the Chicago White Sox and Edwin Encarnacion was sent to the Seattle Mariners. Francisco Lindor, who had a big offensive year, is an early question mark with a right calf strain that will keep him out seven to nine weeks.
The Indians are trying to rebuild a bullpen that lost closer Cody Allen to the Angels and Andrew Miller to the Cardinals through free agency.
Perez will have to prepare reliever Brad Hand for a new role and work in nonroster pitchers such as Alex Wilson. The good news for Perez is that aces Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are still a couple locker spaces away.
“I’m just happy they both never got traded,” Perez said. “We have our rotation intact. They’re fun to watch when I was on the bench. They’re fun to catch.”
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to be behind the plate for them all year. I’m looking forward to them having great years.”