Handle With Care


Jul 24, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) looks in on catcher Salvador Perez (13), as a trainer takes care of a cut on Perez

On Thursday in the top of the fifth inning, Dustin Ackley swung at a pitch and fouled it off. The ball skipped off his bat and popped Salvador Perez on the chin of his facemask. Perez paused, held out his arms as if to steady himself, but fell back and remained seated in the dirt. (You can see video here.)

He worked his way back up to his knees while assistant trainer Kyle Turner came out to tend to him. He stood up and Turner and Ned Yost were adequately convinced that he was okay to stay in the game.

Perez came up in the bottom of the inning, singled to left, and drove in Emilio Bonifacio. He left the game after the hit, though, complaining of dizziness. Brett Hayes pinch-ran and his status was in question for Friday. According to Yost, Perez was fine and passed concussion tests and was able to play in Friday’s game.

The Royals lost – badly – but Perez left after four innings with the Royals down 10-1.

Kansas City would be wise to keep an eye on Perez’s playing time. You’ll remember that he suffered a concussion last month about this time but returned after seven days with MLB clearance. At the time, he was going to use a different mask (Perez uses the traditional cage style mask while many catchers these days use the hockey-style mask, which is said to be better for protection), but bailed on that experiment. After his shot on Thursday, the Royals wanted him to make the change again, but Perez simply wasn’t comfortable.

They’ll also have him set up closer to the hitters, according to Yost, to limit some of the foul tips from getting to him. Since his return on August 11, Perez has taken more than just Thursday’s shot, and every time he gets hit, the idea of a recurrence comes up.

This summer has been busy on the concussion front. Alex Gordon had a scare in July. Perez had his concussion on August 3. Chris Getz may have sustained one this week.

Perez is obviously important to this team’s faintly-shining playoff dreams. He’s a strong-armed, fearless catcher who can hit a little (Perez entered Friday hitting .318/.362/.565 with six homers in the 25 games since returning from his August concussion). The Royals have him signed until 2019 if they want him. They’ve made him their franchise catcher.

The Royals must take every step they can to ensure that Perez is 100% clear of a concussion. As a catcher, Perez will be susceptible to the small bumps and dings that don’t look like much, but placed in the right spot, can cause concussion symptoms, and once someone has sustained one concussion, later concussions can happen with smaller impacts. A big hit at the plate could be a big problem. Perez is going to play. The Royals want him to play, and there are some cases where it’s just unavoidable that he’ll take some contact. The only way to ensure that he never will is to not play him, and that won’t be an option. But they can take steps to help prevent later issues and take precautions to help limit his exposure to damage.

The old school approach is to shake it off, but more and more, research shows the problem of repeated concussions. The science is complex, but you don’t have to know the science behind concussions to make the connection of “hit head = bad”. Concussions can mess up careers and lives. Justin Morneau hasn’t been the same since suffering one in 2010. Brian Roberts had one in late 2010 and another within seven months and has played just 113 games since the initial incident. He’s a shell of his former self. The NFL agreed to a settlement with retired players who suffered concussions and didn’t receive adequate treatment, protection, or information about their condition.

So if that means the Royals have to get a little more stubborn to get Perez to wear the helmet they want, they need to do it. If that means they go investigating on alternatives to combine the comfort Perez is used to and the protection of the model he doesn’t like, they have to do it.

And if it means he has to miss more games than he otherwise would for the rest of the month, they have to do that.