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Notes: Pérez's 'game-changer'; injury updates

@MandyBell02
March 5, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz -- Roberto Pérez had as close to a perfect defensive season as a catcher could have last year, but now that he had the bone spurs in his right ankle removed over the offseason, he’s expecting an even better season in 2020.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz -- Roberto Pérez had as close to a perfect defensive season as a catcher could have last year, but now that he had the bone spurs in his right ankle removed over the offseason, he’s expecting an even better season in 2020.

Pérez’s 24 homers were more than he had hit in his previous five big league seasons combined (21) and in the offseason he was awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove for his defensive efforts. But since April, he was battling severe pain in the ankle due to bone spurs that he described as “something poking me in there with a knife.” He may not be completely 100 percent now, but he’s close, and he’s excited to play pain free.

“I think high pitches and low pitches, it was hard for me to get on my legs and go get it with my legs,” Pérez said. “It was something that I would come up hitting instead of driving my back leg.

“So far by hitting and catching, my movement is a lot better, my range of motion is much better. I’m glad the way it came out. I still have to trust it. … But I think it’s going to be a game changer for me.”

Indians manager Terry Francona had said that Pérez would miss the first week of spring games to continue working with catching coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and ease his ankle back into game action. He got his first start last Saturday and has since taken his crouch behind the plate in three more contests, including for five innings on Wednesday. And while he said he’s feeling much better, the toughest part for him will be reminding himself that his ankle has been fixed.

“It took me a while to kind of trust it and kind of like teach my mind that there’s nothing there,” Pérez said. “That was the hardest part. Like when I go out and hit and catch, sometimes I try to manage my movement because I played for so long with the bone spurs, so I still think I have them there, which I got rid of them. But it’s been, mentally, it’s been hard.”

The 31-year-old compiled a franchise record .997 fielding percentage (three errors in 1,137 total chances) in 2019 and did not record a passed ball in 118 games (993 2/3 innings). He’s confident in his defense, but thinks that having a year under his belt as the everyday backup will only propel him to have a better offensive and defensive season.

“When I first got the starting job, I just didn’t take it for granted. I’m not taking it for granted now,” Pérez said. “I think working harder than last year or previous years because I want to have a better season. … I want to take care of the pitching staff, I want to be back there for these young guys, I want to keep learning and I’m sure they want to learn, too. Our team is young and ready for another challenge. I think we’re in a good spot, I’m in a good spot. I just can’t wait to get going.”

Carrasco and Civale expected to be ready by Opening Day
Francona’s voice was filled with hesitation last week when asked whether Carlos Carrasco (hip flexor strain) and Aaron Civale (groin discomfort) would have enough time to build their arms up to be ready by the start of the season since their debuts were delayed until the third week of camp. But now, after the Tribe has scrutinized the schedule, the team believes there’s just enough time remaining.

“If everything stays on track, we think they can get built up to a sufficient enough point where they can be ready to go in the rotation,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said on Wednesday. “But we are starting to run out of time, so if there are any slow-downs in those schedules, it could have an impact.”

Tito hoping to manage Friday
Francona was out sick for Wednesday and Thursday’s games, but was able to come into the Indians’ facility for an hour Thursday morning. The team expects him to return for Friday’s matchup against the A’s at Goodyear Ballpark.

Up next
Shane Bieber will make his third spring start on Friday at Goodyear Ballpark against the A’s. In his first two outings, he’s tossed a combined 3 2/3 hitless frames, permitting just one walk with two strikeouts. Right-hander Paul Blackburn will get the nod for Oakland. First pitch is slated for 3:05 p.m. ET.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.