CHICAGO -- If you think Salvador Perez came back too quickly from the left thumb surgery that had him out only four weeks instead of the expected eight, well, he’s provided 1,317 feet of reasons to prove you wrong.
In four games since returning from the injured list on Friday, Perez has clubbed three home runs of 400 feet or more, the latest a monster blast on Monday night that sailed over the ivy that lines the batter’s eye at Guaranteed Rate Field. It bounced to the stairs that lead up to the Fan Deck overlooking center field -- and it had many around the stadium wondering if they’ve ever seen a ball hit that far here.
“I’ve never seen a ball go up there,” manager Mike Matheny said after the Royals’ 2-1 win over the White Sox to open a three-game series.
Statcast measured it at a projected 452 feet.
“That’s a glitch,” Whit Merrifield said. “That was close to 500. That was crazy.”
Perez laughed when he heard the number: “It’s got to be more than that. Come on man. That’s all I’ve got. I don’t have anything more.”
While the distance was debated throughout the clubhouse, no one could argue that the slider White Sox starter Michael Kopech threw on the outside of the zone was, simply, crushed. And it came at a perfect time with the Royals searching for some offense as lefty starter Daniel Lynch cruised through a tough Chicago lineup in his first start since a blister sent him to the injured list in mid-July.
“When there are big moments like that… you just feel like he’s going to do something special,” Lynch said. “As much as I like to joke around about it, it is just nice to have that presence back.”
Lynch threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings with no walks and seven strikeouts, attacking the White Sox lineup with four effective pitches. The blister seems to be behind him, and he showcased fastball command that he hasn’t had consistently since the beginning of the season.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go out and have a normal game,” Lynch said. “So it was a lot of fun to be back out there with these guys and to throw to Salvy.”
On the eve of the 5 p.m. CT Trade Deadline that could see the Royals deal some key players in a disappointing 2022, it’s clear that Perez is here to stay as Kansas City’s anchor, both in the lineup and for a young pitching staff.
Throwing on the catcher’s gear every day is what Perez is enjoying the most since being back from the IL, because he enjoys game calling and helping a pitcher navigate a lineup.
“To be behind the plate with these guys, that means a lot to me,” Perez said. “This is what I like to do. It’s not fun when you’re on the IL. We get paid to play, we get paid to be here. I just love to play. I love to be behind the home plate every day.
“I love homers, too.”
The other player who had an impact against the White Sox might not share the same fate. Merrifield, who hit a towering solo homer to Chicago’s bullpen to give the Royals a crucial insurance run in the sixth inning, could be on the move by the time Game 2 of this series kicks off Tuesday night. Some in the industry believe the Royals are more likely to trade the longtime utilityman this season than in previous years.
The Royals are open to it, but they have acknowledged that they think Merrifield is valuable to them for at least the next year, helping to usher in the new wave of talent.
“A lot of distractions, but he continues to play the game and put blinders on and said, ‘All right, what do I need to do to help our team win?’” Matheny said. “He’s a winning-style player. … He can lead by how he’s gone about his business. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, and he’s just continued to play the game.”
To be clear, no one quite knows what’s going to happen by the Deadline. The Royals are content keeping Merrifield as a leader in their clubhouse, but they know there is interest from some contenders. Whatever happens, Merrifield does his best to set aside what’s going on off the field when he steps between the lines.
“Once the game starts, it’s the game, and what happens off the field for me is two separate parts of my life,” Merrifield said. “I feel like I do a pretty good job of disconnecting the two.”