The Royals are now bracing for at least several weeks without starting catcher Salvy Perez after an initial diagnosis found torn cartilage in his left knee stemming from an injury suffered beforeTuesday’s game against Cincinnati.
Perez, 21, will undergo surgery within a few days at a location yet to be determined. A club statement said no timetable for his recovery will be available until the full extent of the damage is known, but downtime for such injuries is typically six to eight weeks.
“Right now,” Perez said, “I’m in a lot of pain. I’m disappointed because this was my first year (to be in the majors on opening day). I was really motivated. It’s very painful but, hopefully, I can bounce back and I’ll be fine.”
The club statement described the injury as a “left lateral meniscus tear.”
General manager Dayton Moore ruled out the possibility of Perez returning in time for the April 6 opener against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
“Even if they get in there and see it’s a real simple procedure,” Moore said, “you’re still probably three or four weeks.”
The injury to Perez leaves veteran backup Brayan Peña, 30, as the only healthy catcher on the club’s 40-man roster. Manny Piña required surgery after suffering a similar injury — torn cartilage in his right knee on Feb. 22 — and isn’t expected back before mid-April.
“Brayan Peña has emerged as someone who is better than a backup,” Moore said. “He gives you good at-bats, and he brings a lot of energy. So we felt we had a real good catching tandem with Salvy and Brayan.
“As of right now, Brayan Peña is certainly the guy. But we need to come up with somebody else to go along with him.”
Moore also said the Royals will “absolutely” accelerate efforts to add another catcher.
Perez was on crutches Wednesday afternoon as he moved around the clubhouse prior to the club’s departure for a night game against Seattle in nearby Peoria, Ariz. Earlier plans for him to depart Arizona for Kansas City are now on hold.
“As of right now,” Perez said, “I’m waiting for some more answers. I’m going day by day and getting treatment and trying to get better.”
The leading in-house candidates to serve as Peña’s backup are Cody Clark, a 30-year-old with a .252 average in 453 minor-league games, and Max Ramirez, who has 45 games of big-league experience from brief tours with Texas in 2008 and 2010.
“Our minor-league people have always liked (Clark),” Moore said, “and Maxie Ramirez was a pretty good-looking hitting prospect at one time, and he’s still just 27. So we’ll continue to give him opportunities as well.”
Peña has never played more than 72 games in a big-league season but said he is ready for an increased workload.
“I always knew this was Salvy’s team,” he said. “I knew I was going to be his backup, but I’m ready. I’ve been working hard with (catching coach) Chino Cadahia, and I know my pitchers. It’s an opportunity, but I’m sorry it happened.”
Perez suffered the injury prior to a 7-5 victory over the Reds while warming up starting pitcher Jonathan Sánchez in the bullpen at Surprise Stadium.
“I felt something funny in my knee,” Perez said, “but I didn’t think it was very dangerous. It was a pitch inside, so I was trying to move (to catch it), and that’s when my knee tweaked. My spikes got stuck, and that’s when my knee moved out of place.”
Perez started the game after undergoing a quick examination on the bench but exited after one inning and departed the field with a clear limp. He was transported to a local medical facility for further examination.
“I’ve learned how to play with a lot of pain,” he said. “I went out there, and I caught the first inning. But then Nick (Kenney), the trainer, he told me that I was limping. He didn’t like the way I looked, so he checked me.
“It really was painful after that. After he shut me down, that’s when I found out it was something serious.”
The Royals signed Perez to a five-year contract extension on Feb. 27 that pays him a guaranteed $7 million. The deal includes club options for three additional years for a potential eight-year package that could be worth as much as $26.75 million.
Club officials cited Perez’s endurance and conditioning as a factor in agreeing to a multi-year deal with a player whose big-league resume consists of just 39 games and 148 at-bats.
Perez zoomed through the Royals’ system over the last two years. His defensive skills prompted club officials to shift catcher Wil Myers, one of the organization’s top prospects, to the outfield following the 2010 season.
After opening last season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, Perez received a mid-season promotion to Class AAA Omaha but remained with the Storm Chasers for just 12 games before getting summoned to the big leagues.
Perez batted .331 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 39 games last season after making his big-league debut Aug. 10 at Tampa Bay.
The Royals signed Perez as a 16-year-old in September 2006, and he began his pro career the following year in the Arizona Rookie League. He was cited by Baseball America as the organization’s best defensive catcher before the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.