Perez's workload unmatched behind plate

Perez's workload unmatched behind plate

TORONTO -- The Salvador Perez who drew one walk in 15 postseason games last year has two through seven playoff games this year. Both the Royals catcher's average and on-base percentage are up this October, while his wizard-like defense remains steady as ever.

Just why is that? The easy answer stems from his workload behind the plate in an extraordinarily taxing position. As the free-swinging Perez's offense dipped last October, outsiders looked to the 143 games he started at catcher during the regular season, pushed to a Major League-record 158 by the time the Royals completed their prolonged postseason run -- including the final 49 in a row.

Game Date Matchup
Gm 1 Oct. 16 KC 5, TOR 0
Gm 2 Oct. 17 KC 6, TOR 3
Gm 3 Oct. 19 TOR 11, KC 8
Gm 4 Oct. 20 KC 14, TOR 2
Gm 5 Oct. 21 TOR 7, KC 1
Gm 6 Oct. 23 KC 4, TOR 3

Dress for the ALCS with Royals gear

Even then, Perez stayed on the field, boarding a flight after a Game 7 World Series loss to the Giants several days later to assume catching duties during an MLB All-Star tour of Japan.

It was shortly thereafter the Royals vowed to rest him more this year, and they did, in part because of their fast start and ensuing comfy cushion in their division. But Perez, only 25 years old, still started 137 games behind the dish during the regular season, six more than second-place finisher and his role model: St. Louis' Yadier Molina.

Minnesota's Kurt Suzuki was the next closest American League catcher, at 123.

Yet Perez's grueling workload, venerable in itself, hardly has him slacking at the plate. His .360 on-base percentage this postseason, which resumes for the Royals on Monday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Blue Jays (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1, with game time slated for 8 p.m.), is second on the team only to Alcides Escobar's .367. He has three home runs, along with two other hits spanning 21 at-bats.

This after driving in 70 runs during the regular season, in which he hit .260/.280/.426 with 21 home runs.

"I think there's been a lot of talk about whether he looks fresher right now than he did at this time last year, and the workload has been a little bit less than last year, but it's hard to say," Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol said. "You can also pinpoint it to where he's more experienced, he knows how to control his emotions a little bit, he's got great routines.

Perez's solo homer

"You hear last year about his bat looking tired. Well, it could be he's just more experienced. He's been through this once before and he knows how to carry the workload."

Royals manager Ned Yost said Sunday his ironman catcher is "in great shape. He feels great. He's strong."

When Perez shows up to the park every day, "it's always, 'I want to play,'" Grifol said, and the numbers prove he usually does, with an infectious gleeful attitude to boot. Even after taking a Josh Donaldson backswing to his left hand Friday, Perez insisted with a smile, "I get some treatment and I'll be back behind the plate tomorrow."

He always is.

Since 2013, he's started a Major League-leading 428 games at catcher covering 3,756 innings -- 335 more than Molina during that span. The next closest, Russell Martin, totaled 3,093. The physicality of the job doesn't faze Perez, though.

"He loves to play. He doesn't want to sit," Grifol said. "We don't particularly like sitting him. We ask if he needs a day, and if he says, 'Yeah,' we'll give it to him. If we thought he needed one, we'll give it to him. He's learning how to be smart and listen to his body, and we also keep a good eye on him.

"What he's already accomplished in the game, I think at times it's easy to forget how young he is. But I don't. I realize that every day, and I realize what he's done and doing, and if he keeps this pace up, he's going to be one of the best ever. He's mature, he's got a great work ethic, he loves the game, he's a team guy. All those things tell me that he's not going to ever veer from this road that he's on, and that's probably what's going to make him great."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.