HOUSTON -- The Indians learned the hard way that catcher Roberto Pérez can serve as a backup first baseman in a pinch.
First baseman Bobby Bradley was removed from the Indians 9-3 loss to the Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park with back spasms, and because utility guy Ernie Clement was already at third base filling in for José Ramírez, who’s dealing with elbow discomfort, the Indians had no other option than to turn to Pérez, who originally had the night off.
“We asked him [if he could play] and he said, ‘I’ve done it,’ and that was all we needed to hear,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “At that point, we’re just trying to finish the game and not get anybody hurt.”
The last thing the Indians need is to add another regular player to the injured list. Bradley tweaked his back in the bottom of the fifth when he cut off a throw from the outfield and pivoted to third base to throw out Jose Altuve to end the frame. He was able to stay in defensively for one more inning, but when it was his turn to step up to the plate, the Indians didn’t want to take any risks.
“He felt something pinch,” Francona said. “Just didn’t think it made sense to try to have him grind through one more at-bat.”
So, Francona and the rest of the coaching staff turned to Pérez in the bottom of the sixth to let him know he’d be going into the game. He went down into the batting cages to get loose and pinch-hit for Bradley in the top of the seventh. Pérez has never played a game at first base, although he has taken ground balls there in practice in the past, and admittedly was nervous to head out to the foreign position.
“The first inning, I thought about wearing my catcher’s mask in the field,” Pérez said. “But they pinch-hit the first couple of the guys and I was all right. But I really was expecting somebody to hit the ball hard to me. I was really joking around with the umpire and I told him, ‘I hope nobody hits the ball hard over here.’ But I was ready. I was ready for it.”
Francona didn’t give any indication of how long Bradley would need to fully recover. A lot will likely be determined in how he arrives at the ballpark for Wednesday’s series finale in Houston. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Indians give him an extra day off, even if he bounces back well overnight.
The team can’t afford to lose yet another player to an injury. Bradley has certainly had his fair share of strikeouts this season, but the power he brings to the table and the threat of his bat has helped bring some more life to the middle of the Indians’ lineup. Without him -- even for a short period of time -- the club will have to figure out a way to utilize Clement while also giving Ramírez the time he needs to stay relatively healthy. Cleveland knows it has options in Yu Chang and Owen Miller, should it need to dip into its depth.
Pérez proved he can fill the hole in times of desperation, as he covered first (even if it was with the wrong foot, as former teammate Michael Brantley jokingly pointed out to him) on a groundout and turned a 3-5-1 double play. But he clearly wouldn’t be the team’s first choice, not only because of his lack of experience but also the need to keep him healthy.
“I didn’t want to make an error on that play,” Pérez said of the double-play ball. “You know, if I had the opportunity to do it again, I’d do it. I have to practice first.”
The Indians knew they had their work cut out for them as they trailed the first-place White Sox by eight games to open the second half of the season. But after getting Zach Plesac, Franmil Reyes and Pérez back from the IL, the club lost outfielder Eddie Rosario to the IL just before the All-Star break. And now, after a successful trip to Oakland, Cleveland will hope that Bradley doesn’t follow suit.