SURPRISE, Ariz. — The last time the Kansas City Royals' highly decorated catcher Salvador Perez held court in this setting, addressed reporters and looked into the cameras, a somber tone hung in the air. He'd undergone season-ending elbow surgery and a contraption purposely limited the movement of his renowned right arm.
Following Wednesday's first workout of spring training for pitchers and catchers, Perez took his place in front of that same locker on that same end of the Royals clubhouse and addressed his health, the idea that he might have something to prove and potentially spending time at a position other than catcher.
A six-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Perez was asked if he enters this year feeling like he needs to remind people of the status he'd achieved as one of the best all-around catchers in the majors.
"I don't need to remind people," Perez responded. "They already know. The only thing I can control is playing hard. Play hard, try to be behind home plate every day and try to do my job. They know who I am. You guys know who I am. They know I love to play baseball. When the light is on, it's my time."
Perez hit a team-high 27 home runs in 2018, another season in which he garnered All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recognition. He also threw out a MLB-best 47.1% of attempted base stealers.
In his eight seasons, Perez has posted a slash line of .266/.297/.442. From 2013-18 (he played in fewer than 80 games in 2011 and 2012) Perez averaged 21 homers and 74 RBIs per season.
While Perez's rehab has remained on schedule, the Royals openly discussed the idea of Perez playing first base and designated hitter to ease him back into his catching duties. The Royals star pushed back on that notion a little bit, seeming to view it as a signal that his catching days may be nearing an end.
"I don't know about that," Perez said of playing some first base. "I'm the catcher, OK. I'm not first base. I don't know about that. If they need me for a couple games, I don't have any problem. But I don't like for people to start thinking about he's getting close to playing first base or being a first baseman.
"No, I prepare myself to catch 162 games. Less than that is easy and more than that is because we're in the playoffs and we don't feel anything. OK. I don't like to think about playing first base or DH or anything. I'm the catcher, and I need to prepare myself to catch."
Perez estimated he's currently at about 90% of the participation level he'd typically expect during spring training. He's been hitting, but with a lighter ball, and he's still not allowed to throw every day.
There are no restrictions on the range of activities he can perform. He said he feels good, and he's able to catch bullpen sessions — he caught former first-round pick Brady Singer's session on Wednesday — as well as hit, throw and do early work and catching drills with bench coach Pedro Grifol.
Perez and head trainer Nick Kenney have a check-up scheduled with the surgeon who performed his surgery, Neal ElAttrache, on Thursday. Perez said he hoped he'd be back to participating 100% next month when he'll be a full year removed from surgery.
"The volume, we're obviously going to watch," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "(We'll) listen to him. He knows what he's doing. He's also going to have a meeting with his doctor (Thursday). That will give us a little better indication. Everything is pointing in a really good direction."