Perez on walks; Santana, O'Hearn heating up

August 18th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- If you think you’re seeing Salvador Perez perform at the plate like never before, you’re right.

In addition to his 30 home runs entering Tuesday, a single-season career best with still a month and a half to play, and his .830 OPS, which ranks third best in his career behind last year’s shortened season and his debut season in 2011, Perez is taking more walks recently.

His third-inning walk in Monday’s win over the Astros was Perez’s fifth walk in his last eight games, including a two-walk game last Monday against the Yankees. He collected just 10 walks in his first 108 games this year.

And he loves to share his excitement of the improved plate discipline.

“Every walk for me is like a base hit,” Perez said, grinning from ear to ear. “I was so happy when I got a walk. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, 1-for-1.’ You guys know me. I’m super aggressive. It’s something I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be more concentrated, trying not to chase, trying not to swing at bad pitches. But seriously, I’m so happy the last couple of days.”

Of course, then Perez delivered the game-winning hit on a slider about four inches off the plate.

But that’s the beauty in what Perez has shown lately. He’ll swing at pitches out of the zone -- and get hits and home runs off them. What Perez has focused on this season is more about laying off pitches he knows he can’t hit instead of chasing them wildly.

“He has a different strike zone than everybody else,” manager Mike Matheny said. “His strike zone isn’t necessarily what’s going to be called balls and strikes. His strike zone is what can he get a barrel to and hit hard. If he has a good awareness of the limits of that and then becoming more selective, he’s on the right track.”

Perez is still chasing and whiffing on pitches. The walk he drew on Monday featured not one pitch close to the zone from Astros starter Jake Odorizzi. And the Royals don’t want to tell Perez to take pitches he would normally hit, just because they’re outside the conventional strike zone.

But Perez has made it a point to try and be more disciplined this year. It was part of his offseason approach -- the same one that has delivered more power this year.

“The best approach that I’ve ever heard is be aggressive in your zone,” Matheny said. “He gets something in that zone where he can drive a ball, it might be a pitch that I couldn’t hit with a boat oar. But he can get the barrel to it. There’s plenty of data to support, ‘You know what? That’s not my zone. I shouldn’t be aggressive there.’ And that goes hand in hand with sometimes, you just take a free pass. But stay aggressive in your zone. If they come there, don’t miss it.”

Santana, O’Hearn show strides
Two offensive pieces in Monday’s win that may have gotten overlooked were Ryan O’Hearn, who collected two hits and two RBIs, and Carlos Santana, who was 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and a walk -- the first time he reached base three or more times in a game since July 29. In the month since the All-Star break, Santana is hitting .164 with a .233 on-base percentage -- a far different line than the month leading up to the break, when he hit .263 with a .379 OBP.

“He shortened up,” Matheny said. “His stride was getting long, body movement was getting long, and that typically leads to a long swing.”

O’Hearn has been quietly putting together a solid few weeks. Monday was his fourth multi-RBI effort in his last 16 games (since July 23), during which he’s batting .310 (13-for-42) with 13 RBIs. The results on Monday came on the heels of two laser shots he hit on Saturday -- both well over 100 mph off the bat, but both resulting in outs.

“Those were great swings,” O’Hearn said. “Just building off it instead of being mad they weren’t hits. It’s still frustrating in the moment, but after the game, you go back and look at it, and instead of saying, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ You’re like, ‘OK, those were good swings, let’s build off it.’

“I feel good with where I’m at. I just want to finish the last stretch and prove that I can be a part of this.”

Minor League promotions
• Outfielder Dairon Blanco was promoted to Triple-A Omaha from Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday after hitting .289/.360/.454 in 79 games with the Naturals this season. The 28-year-old was part of the Jake Diekman trade with the Athletics in 2019.

• Seuly Matias was bumped from High-A Quad Cities to Double-A to take over that outfield spot. The Royals’ No. 16 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has posted an .844 OPS this season with 11 home runs, bouncing back from a .566 OPS season in 2019. Matias has serious power but has struggled with swings and misses, and the Royals have worked on his swing considerably to cut down the chase.