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Two phone calls make major changes in two new Rays lives

New Rays catcher Michael Perez, right, and umpire Phil Cuzzi watch Jonathan Schoop's two-run home run for the Orioles on July 26, 2018. (Associated Press)
New Rays catcher Michael Perez, right, and umpire Phil Cuzzi watch Jonathan Schoop's two-run home run for the Orioles on July 26, 2018. (Associated Press)
Published Jul. 27, 2018
Updated Jul. 27, 2018

BALTIMORE — Think about how much a phone call can change your life.

Wednesday afternoon, Michael Perez was preparing for a game in New Orleans with the Reno Aces, the Diamondbacks' Triple-A team he was playing for in his eighth year in their minor-league system.

In a matter of minutes, he got word that he had been traded to the Rays. That he was going to the majors. And that he was starting Thursday night behind the plate in Camden Yards.

"I'm very proud of what I've done,'' Perez, 25, said in Spanish before the 4-3 win over the Orioles. "The time it took, to stay focused and finally make it up here as long as I've been in the minor leagues, I'm just proud of myself and excited.''

That pride was obvious before the game when — after he'd said his hellos to his new teammates, gotten his uniform and equipment sorted out, and done a few interviews — he pulled out his phone and took a photo of the No. 43 PEREZ jersey hanging in his locker.

And certainly was obvious after the game as he stood in front of that locker beaming not just about playing, and winning, but getting his first big-league hit, tucking a double just inside the leftfield foul line in his second at-bat. Making that more special, he said that his wife, kids, brother, parents and grandparents were supposed to be in the stands, having come from Puerto Rico to share in the moment, and the excitement.

"It was definitely tremendous,'' he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. "I didn't have too many nerves. I was pretty calm. But it's definitely an unforgettable moment.''

RELATED: Marc Topkin's takeaways from the Rays' win over the Orioles.

Rays manager Kevin Cash was impressed, including how Perez processed the steady flow of information the coaches were giving him.

"I thought he did really well,'' Cash said. "He probably had a lot of anxiety, but it didn't show at the plate or behind it. He handled the pitching staff really well. He got his hit out of the way. Just watching him behind the plate, he looked the part.''

Perez didn't seem to be going anywhere with Arizona. He was a fringe prospect at best, not even on the 40-man roster, with little upward mobility. That was despite solid numbers from the left side of the plate, hitting .284 with six homers, 29 RBIs and a .759 OPS this season, and with a notable improvement in pitch framing and blocking to complement his strong arm.

The Rays, though, saw something more.

And in acquiring Perez and Class-A pitcher Brian Shaffer for pitcher Matt Andriese, they believed there was no reason to wait. They had playing time available behind the plate with Wilson Ramos on the disabled list for now, and potentially traded by next week.

"We think (Perez is) ready,'' Cash said. "We think he's ready for us to get a look at him, get a solid look, a consistent look. … From everything we hear, (Perez) was awaiting his opportunity. Given another organization, he might have already been in the big leagues.

"Our guys do a good job of knowing what makes people special, and we think he has a chance to be a special defender, a special overall catcher.''

The Rays also were excited Thursday to see their other new acquisition, Jalen Beeks, who got a similar life-changing call. The 25-year-old lefty pitcher with impressive Triple-A numbers was acquired for Nathan Eovaldi from the Red Sox.

"(Beeks has) done some special things in Triple-A himself,'' Cash said. "(He is) pretty known throughout the industry; we've received a lot of compliments (for getting Beeks). We just want him to get in here, be comfortable.''

Beeks, like Perez, is thrilled for the opportunity, one he wouldn't have necessarily gotten in the glare of a Red Sox pennant race, especially because his first two big-league outings for Boston were a mess.

"I'm excited,'' Beeks said. "I'm just blessed to be here. Someone wanted me; someone traded for me. That's always real humbling. I'm eager to hear what they have to tell me, the staff here. I'm really ready to learn. I want to get big-league hitters out.''

The Rays are talking about protecting Beeks by using an opener in front of him. A Saturday or Sunday debut is likely.

His development has been impressive, from an undersized high schooler in Arkansas who struck out 21 in an eight-inning game, to a Division I starter for Arkansas, to Boston's 2017 minor-league pitcher of the year and No. 6 overall prospect.

So no snap judgements should be made about him. Cash — as did GM Erik Neander on Wednesday — said pitchers such as Beeks, who succeed with skill and savvy rather than raw stuff, need time to get comfortable and confident.

"Some guys get there with power. Some guys get there with pitch-ability,'' Cash said "From what we understand, (Beeks is) a pitch-ability guy. He's got a bunch of pitches that mix. We want him to find that comfort and use that same repertoire he's been using throughout his whole career and use it in the big leagues.

"Are there lumps going to come with it? Without a doubt. We've seen our own (pitchers) that we brought up here this year come with some lumps, having some really good outings and some not-so-good outings. So we're going to allow him that lane, that path, that he can go be himself.''

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.