Kansas City Royals activate Salvador Perez, who makes immediate impact with 3-run HR

NEW YORK -- All-Star slugger Salvador Perez hit a go-ahead, three-run homer for the Kansas City Royals on Friday night in his return from the injured list before the New York Yankees rallied for an 11-5 win.

Last year's major league home run champion batted third as the designated hitter barely a month after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

He flied out to left field and struck out in his first two at-bats, then launched a no-doubter to left-center off Gerrit Cole in the fifth inning to put Kansas City ahead 5-3. His drive came one at-bat after Whit Merrifield's two-run single ended the Royals' scoreless streak at 31 2/3 innings.

Perez admired his high fly ball from the batter's box and pumped his fist after rounding second.

"Salvy being Salvy, just reminding us how special he is," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's just different, different than most people can do. The way the ball comes off his bat, you can tell he's feeling strong and feeling confident."

Perez finished the game 1 for 4 with a strikeout. He says he hopes to be behind the plate Saturday.

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 preconceived 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 having surgery. He is hitting .211 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI and a career-low .690 OPS in 58 games in the first season of a team-record $82 million, four-year contract.

The clubhouse leader returned to a club that could look quite different in a few days. The Royals are 39-61 and in last place in the AL Central after trading All-Star 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 Witt will 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 RBI and a .760 OPS.

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