Injury to 'integral' Pérez presents challenge for Pirates

May 8th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- The Pirates will be without their starting backstop for quite some time.

Prior to Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park, general manager Ben Cherington announced on 93.7 The Fan that Roberto Pérez’s left hamstring strain is “on the more severe side of things.” As things stand, Pérez’s duration on the injured list, per Cherington, is projected to be on the “longer side.”

“It’s challenging,” manager Derek Shelton said. “A guy that’s an integral part of what we’re doing on the pitching side, and to lose him to an injury, it’s going to be a tough blow for us.”

Pérez was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday, and Shelton said it is currently unclear if he will require being placed on the 60-day injured list. Pérez’s timetable should become more clear when the team returns to Pittsburgh.

“We’re going to get him home and get our doctors to look at him,” Shelton said. “I think we’ll move from there.”

The injury occurred in the first game of Pittsburgh’s doubleheader as Pérez attempted to advance from first to third on a base hit. As Pérez geared up to round second base, he fell hard to the ground, then crawled back to the base to avoid being called out. Head athletic trainer Rafael Freitas and assistant athletic trainer Tony Leo quickly made their way to Pérez, who was visibly in pain.

After Freitas and Leo conferred with Pérez for several minutes, Leo appeared to signal for the medical cart. The medical cart began to make its way toward second base, but Freitas and Leo were able to escort Pérez off the field and into the dugout. With Andrew Knapp having been ejected earlier in the game despite not playing -- it was the first instance Knapp has ever been thrown out -- Josh VanMeter was thrown into emergency catcher duty, the first time he had caught since he was a teenager.

Pérez initially appeared to have slipped on second base, but the replay revealed that Pérez fell after landing on his left foot before making contact with the base. Pérez did not appear to have landed awkwardly on his left foot but immediately collapsed after making contact with the dirt.

With Pérez on the injured list, Knapp will assume starting catcher duties. Michael Perez, who homered Sunday, will fill in as the backup.

Taylor Davis, who was released then re-signed by the Pirates this offseason, could be in the mix once he becomes eligible to be called up May 15. With respect to those three, replacing someone with Pérez’s résumé isn’t easy.

At the plate, Pérez was hitting .233/.333/.367 with two home runs and a 108 wRC+. Behind the plate, Pérez totaled two defensive runs saved in 21 games and ranked in the 79th percentile in framing. Following two injury-plagued seasons in 2020 and 2021, Pérez was looking more like the catcher who won back-to-back Gold Gloves.

More than the numbers, there’s also the incalculable value he provides as a veteran catcher to a young pitching staff. One of the reasons Pérez signed with Pittsburgh was for the opportunity to work with pitchers, just as he did in Cleveland with the likes of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and others.

“That’s the biggest portion, just the ability to call a game, the ability to bring your young pitchers along as we’ve talked about numerous times,” Shelton said. “He caught one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball in his time in Cleveland. We saw the effect on some of our younger players and in the maturation that they showed.”

Given that some contending teams may take an interest in Pérez, it’s fair to wonder how many more games Pérez might be behind the dish to see those young pitchers develop.

Among all the Pirates’ potential trade candidates, few may be sought after more than Pérez. The veteran backstop is plenty familiar with the playoffs, having caught 172 1/3 career innings of October baseball. Most teams wouldn’t have any trouble bringing what’s left of Pérez’s one-year, $5 million contract onto the books for a stretch drive.

Whether a trade unfolds remains to be seen. For now, the Pirates shift their attention to replacing an invaluable cog.

“Like I said, it’s going to be a significant blow to us,” Shelton said.