Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez to miss months after finger surgery

CLEVELAND -- A tiny crack in Roberto Perez's finger has turned into a large problem for the Indians.

Cleveland's two-time Gold Glove catcher will miss at least two months after surgery Friday on a fractured right ring finger. There is no definitive timeline for Perez's recovery, but the Indians are planning to be without him for a significant period.

"It's not weeks," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's months."

Perez played in pain for several weeks with the fracture, which happened when he got crossed up by reliever James Karinchak on April 14 in Chicago. Perez broke the finger on his throwing hand when he caught the pitch barehanded.

He left the Indians' series this week in Kansas City to visit hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham, who placed three pins in the catcher's finger to stabilize it.

Graham did surgery on Perez's broken right thumb almost exactly five years ago. Perez missed two months after that procedure.

Perez's loss is a big blow to the Indians, who entered Friday night's series opener against the Cincinnati Reds leading the American League Central after winning nine of 11. The 32-year-old is one of baseball's best defensive catchers and handles the Indians' strong pitching staff.

Austin Hedges will get the bulk of starts while Perez is sidelined with Rene Rivera serving as his backup. Rivera had three hits in his first start for Cleveland on Thursday as the Indians completed their first four-game sweep in Kansas City since 1960.

"We'll see how it goes," Francona said. "I think it's easy to say, well, Rene had three hits yesterday, why don't you play him today? But that was his first game that he's actually caught nine innings, so we don't want to overdo him either.

"So we'll try to use good judgment. My guess is you'll see Hedges catch more, maybe not quite as much as Roberto was."

Perez's batting average dropped nearly 100 points after he got hurt. Francona said he could tell Perez was pulling off pitches he would normally swing at, and the injury clearly bothered him when he had to make hard throws to bases.

Perez worked hard on his body during the offseason, dropping 25 pounds. He was slowed by a shoulder injury last season but came to training camp in great shape.

He is batting just .131 with three homers and nine RBIs in 19 games.