Royals activate Salvador Perez from IL after thumb surgery

NEW YORK (AP) — The Kansas City Royals activated All-Star catcher Salvador Perez from the injured list Friday and put…

NEW YORK (AP) — The Kansas City Royals activated All-Star catcher Salvador Perez from the injured list Friday and put him in the starting lineup against the New York Yankees.

The reigning major league home run leader was set to bat third as the designated hitter barely a month after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

“He’s the heart and soul of our club,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’re really fortunate to have him back.”

Kansas City initially estimated the 32-year-old Perez would need eight weeks to recover after surgery June 24, but doctors assured the club he was ready for big league action.

“At that point, I think we take whatever we think our preconcieved idea was of how long it should take and throw it out the window,” Matheny said.

Perez, a seven-time All-Star, played three minor league rehab games with Triple-A Omaha and went 4 for 8. He caught one game and was the DH in two others. He warmed up prior to Friday night’s game with a first baseman’s mitt, although the five-time Gold Glove winner hasn’t played the position since 2020.

Perez led the majors with 48 homers in 2021 but was slumping this year prior to the surgery. He’s hitting .211 with 11 home runs, 34 RBIs and a career-low .680 OPS in 57 games. He’s in the first year of a team-record $82 million, four-year contract.

The clubhouse leader returns to a club that could look quite different in a few days. The Royals entered Friday 39-60 and in last place in the AL Central after trading outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees on Wednesday. They could unload more players before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Rookie shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. was held out of the lineup for a fifth straight game with right hamstring soreness, but Matheny is optimistic he’ll play before the end of the weekend. Witt ramped up his pregame work Friday, including a lengthy batting practice.

The 22-year-old Witt is batting .258 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs and a .760 OPS.

Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera was optioned to Triple-A to make space for Perez.

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