SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Salvador Perez went about his morning as if nothing was amiss.
In his heavily accented English, the six-time All-Star catcher spent some time joking with teammates. He bounced from one end of Kansas City’s spring training clubhouse to the next, displaying the same kind of youthful exuberance as the rookies trying to scrap for a spot on the Royals.
Indeed, could never tell that his right elbow housed a damaged ulnar collateral ligament that made it painful even to hit, and that it could require surgery that keeps him out all season.
“I have to prepare for that. That’s going to be the worst thing,” Perez said, finally unable to mask the underlying concern. “We’re going to Los Angeles for a second opinion and we’ll see.”
The injury occurred during a workout Wednesday, when Perez was playing long toss. He waited until the next morning to see whether the pain remained, and then spoke to Royals trainer Nick Kenney, who ordered an MRI exam that revealed the extent of the injury.
Kenney said no recommendations have been made to have Perez undergo Tommy John surgery, but it is a distinct possibility. More will be known on Tuesday, when Perez visits Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who is considered one of the premier orthopedic surgeons in baseball.
“What we have here is an injury that is severe enough to where we have concern,” Kenney said. “A lot of times we go worst-case scenario and work backward, because if you go worst-case scenario you can prepare yourself for anything. So that’s where we’re at.”
The 2015 World Series MVP is coming off a season in which he hit a career-low .235, but he still matched a career high with 27 homers and 80 RBIs. He also remained one of the premier defensive catchers in the game, and his leadership in a young and evolving clubhouse is considered crucial.
The Royals are in the midst of a massive rebuilding effort, and backup catchers Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria are poised to step into a much bigger role sooner than expected.
“You know, that’s what we’re going to struggle with emotionally,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, “because Salvy, you can’t measure what he means to a team. It’s not just on the team. It’s in the clubhouse, it’s in the community. His enthusiasm is so infectious.”
“He represents in my opinion a lot of what this game should be about,” Moore continued. “He loves to play baseball. He’s enthusiastic. Whether he’s on a great streak or a poor streak during the season, I mean, the fans love watching him play because of his enthusiasm. He’s very charismatic. He does a lot on the field that case you to say, ‘Wow!'”
Moore said there was no indication Perez was experiencing elbow trouble during his exit physical last fall or his physical taken at the beginning of spring training. And the fact that it came out of the blue is one of the reasons the Royals are scrambling to decide what to do next.
Moore dismissed any thought of rushing MJ Melendez, one of their top prospects, to the majors. And while high on Gallagher and Viloria, they have had a veteran backstop most of the past three years in Drew Butera. But he signed with the Phillies as a free agent last month, and the Royals struggled to lure another veteran in free agency because Perez was so entrenched behind the plate.
Now, options are relatively limited until clubs begin paring down their rosters.
“You have to ask, ‘What are they going to bring over the guys we currently have?'” Moore said. “We feel very confident about Gallagher and Viloria. And we’ll see how camp goes.”
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