Rays’ Michael Perez: Demotion felt ‘a lot longer than it was’

Catcher is happy to be back in majors; Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Lowe making progress in injury rehabs
Rays catcher Michael Perez, shown here during a game against the Red Sox in April, strained his right oblique on May 4 but was called up Friday, July 26, 2019, from Triple-A Durham. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Rays catcher Michael Perez, shown here during a game against the Red Sox in April, strained his right oblique on May 4 but was called up Friday, July 26, 2019, from Triple-A Durham. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jul. 27, 2019|Updated Jul. 27, 2019

TORONTO — The last time catcher Michael Perez played for the Rays was so long ago, they had the best record in the majors.

Since that May 4 game, Perez strained his right oblique, needed a month for recovery and rehab, and was optioned to Triple-A Durham on June 10, where he has played since. The Rays, meanwhile, went from a leagues-leading 21-12 to 58-47.

Perez was called up Friday, but how much he will play isn’t clear, nor is how long he stays, pending needs for an extra pitcher or one of the currently injured players coming back.

But with catcher Travis d’Arnaud being used as the first baseman against lefty starters, having Perez gives the Rays more depth and flexibility. Specifically late in games, when they now more freely could pinch-run or pinch-hit for their other catcher, Mike Zunino. And with Perez being a lefty swinger, he could get some starts against a right-hander.

“He’s a major-league catcher,’’ manager Kevin Cash said, “We’re fortunate we have him in Durham, and I’m glad he’d back up here.’’

Perez, who took the roster spot created by left-hander Blake Snell’s injury, was just happy to get the opportunity.

“I feel good, and I’m glad to be here and contribute any way I can. I’m ready to play,’’ the Puerto Rican native said via team translator Manny Navarro. “It felt like a lot longer than it was, but I’m glad to be back.’’

The combination of Perez and Zunino getting hurt days apart is what led the Rays to scramble to get d’Arnaud, the former Mets starter, from the Dodgers for the bargain price of $100,000. In turn, d’Arnaud’s strong play is what led the Rays to send Perez to the minors when he was healthy.

“I’m just here to give 100 percent wherever I’m at,’’ Perez said. “At first it was a little bit surprising when they did send me down, but you can’t control it. You only control what you can control. So you go play.’’

Medical matters: Kiermaier, B. Lowe, Stanek

Cash had some actual good injury news, topped by centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier (left thumb sprain) progressing enough in taking swings that he should be “really close” to returning from the injured list when eligible Wednesday in Boston. Kiermaier is scheduled to start a rehab assignment Saturday as the DH for advanced Class A Charlotte in its game at Clearwater (6:30 p.m.).

And Cash said that infielder Brandon Lowe, sidelined since July 2 with a severe right leg bruise, had a good workout day at the Trop and reported “he felt better today than any day prior,’’ though there is still no timetable.

Also, reliever Ryne Stanek (hip) will throw a bullpen Saturday or Sunday, reliever Jose Alvarado (oblique) played catch with no issues and is close to throwing off a mound, infielder Daniel Robertson (right knee surgery) shifted his rehab from the Stone Crabs to Durham, and infielder Yandy Diaz (left foot bruise) remains too sore to do much.

Alvarado reported no discomfort, which Cash said “is a little head-scratching in the fact that it’s an oblique, so we’ve got to be smart with that.’’

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For openers, Castillo

The Rays hoped having Diego Castillo open Friday’s game would allow him to relax and throw more strikes rather than the usual relief role he has been struggling in, and it worked. Castillo breezed through a 1-2-3 first frame, throwing just 10 pitches, six for strikes, including a slider to fan Vlad Guerrero Jr. Castillo did 11 stints as the opener last year, with a solid 2.65 ERA, so they decided to try it again.

“I don’t foresee this as something we’re going to do every time, but I think it’s a good opportunity for Diego,’’ Cash said before the game. “He’s had three, four outings since he got back from the IL, and it’s been better, but it’s still capable of getting a lot better as far as the strike-throwing.’’

Quote of the day

“Obviously you can’t replace Blake Snell with anybody.’’

- Pitcher Jalen Beeks, on his now-injured teammate


• Cash didn’t seem too concerned about the Red Sox threatening to file a protest over the Rays’ allegedly “illegal substitutions” in Wednesday’s game, so thus he wasn’t too interested to hear Friday that they decided not to file. “We were confident in the messages that were relayed,’’ Cash said.

• D’Arnaud played three seasons in the Jays’ minor-league system and made one previous trip to Toronto in 2015 with the Mets. But his best story was coming with his dad for a predraft workout and because Travis didn’t have a passport, they had to fly from California to Buffalo, N.Y., and drive up.

• Friday was the ninth anniversary of the Rays’ only no-hitter, thrown by Matt Garza against the Tigers at the Trop on July 26, 2010.