GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Roberto Pérez's past offensive numbers have been put under the microscope since the Indians traded catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals, but manager Terry Francona was clear that there's more to naming a starting catcher than his production at the plate.
"The biggest thing is [defense] and running the game," Francona said. "By that, you know, calling, putting the right fingers down, preparing, getting your pitcher through not just the easy parts, but the difficult parts. [Perez is] extremely prepared for that.
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"I think we all feel like with more regular at-bats, he's gonna hit better. If he doesn't hit like Gomes, we still believe in the way he runs the game that he's kind of a standout in that area. That's first and foremost as a catcher."
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In 2018, Perez hit .168 with nine doubles, two home runs and 19 RBIs in 62 games. In his five seasons with the Indians, Perez, 30, has hit below the Mendoza Line twice, but has never been a starter who received consistent playing time. When fans look at the statistics on paper, it's easy to overlook how the importance of being able to manage a pitching staff outweighs offensive production, according to Francona.
"If I was a casual fan, I wouldn't either," Francona said. "When I go to a basketball game, I'm looking to see how many points somebody scores. That's just part of the fun. But we realize, not only do we realize, but we pound it home with our catchers. You see them even when they're catching their sides after they're done, they communicate with [the pitchers], they talk to them. Whether it's the youngest kid in the camp or the veteran, that's part of being a good catcher."
Although hitting may not be the absolute top priority when it comes to earning the starting catching job as he competes against Kevin Plawecki for the position, Perez knows how important it still is. After experiencing a disappointing offensive season last year, the backstop took it upon himself to get extra work by competing in the Dominican Republic for Tigres del Licey over the winter.
"It helped me a lot, playing in the Dominican and playing in a very good league," Perez said. "… My mindset was to come to the ballpark each day, and even if you go 0-for-4 you know the next day you're in [the lineup]. I mean, it gives you a lot of confidence. I'm already a confident guy, so to play every day is going to give me more confidence to come out and perform."
That confidence and consistency led to Perez slashing .333/.418/.435 with four doubles, one homer and 10 RBIs in 24 contests for Tigres del Licey. Playing in the Dominican League slightly changed Perez's offseason routine, but the catcher was sure to finish in time to physically prepare himself for the 2019 season.
"I went down there to get my at-bats," Perez said. "Not to catch, because I know what I'm capable of doing behind the plate, but to be able to go down and get consistent at-bats, and they have great pitching there. So, challenge myself and prove to me and everyone else what kind of player I am. I did really well, felt really well and hopefully that carries into the season."