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Jun. 22—When the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Michael Perez off waivers to be a backup catcher, they received reports from Tampa Bay that the left-handed hitter had the ability to drive the ball.

Where Perez showed flashes of power, going 3 for 3 with a two-run double and a solo home run at Minnesota on April 24, what the Pirates saw through the first two months of the season was mostly swing and miss as he struck out in 41.4% (24 of 58) of his at-bats in April and May.

“He takes aggressive swings,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said, “and that’s the thing.”

It paid off Saturday night, when Perez hit a three-run home run to spark a six-run seventh inning in the Pirates’ 6-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. His 360-foot shot to right field soon was overshadowed by the 428-foot bomb Bryan Reynolds bounced into the Allegheny River, but Shelton is impressed with how Perez has turned it around at the plate despite owning the second-worst batting average (.152) among the Pirates’ position players.

“He took advantage of where the pitch was gonna be and got the head out and put us ahead,” Shelton said. “I think he’s in a better position to hit. We talk about timing a lot. I think his timing is closer to where we needed it to be on a consistent basis. The other thing is, we’ve sprinkled him in more and have tried to get him more consistent. When you’re the backup catcher, especially early in the year with a lot of off days, you don’t get at-bats. So we’ve tried to get him more opportunities, so he has the ability to get his timing.”

His improved play couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the Pirates have a handful of veteran catchers at Triple-A Indianapolis. They signed Joe Hudson in the offseason, added Christian Bethancourt in early May and acquired Taylor Davis from Baltimore last week. Perez was running out of time.

In the 26 games since May 22, Perez has started nine and appeared in 11 and is producing with the increased playing time. Perez has hit .250 (8 for 32) with two doubles, four home runs and eight RBIs. His five home runs this season are tied with starting catcher Jacob Stallings for third on the team, behind Reynolds (12) and Gregory Polanco (seven), despite Perez having 115 fewer plate appearances than Stallings.

“Lately, I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been actually been feeling great,” Perez said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “My mentality is just to make sure that I’m getting good at-bats. That I’m going to the box sticking to the plan, trying to stay in the middle. Making sure that I’m staying on top of the ball. Hopefully, they make a mistake. And if they don’t, I’m sticking to my plan. The results are showing that I’m executing on the plan.”

That Perez’s improvement has come at the expense of Stallings is not coincidental. After batting .257 with 10 doubles, three homers and 15 RBIs through his first 33 games, Stallings is hitting .195 with three doubles, a triple, two homers and 14 RBIs in the 22 games since taking a foul ball off the leg against the San Francisco Giants on May 16.

Shelton has intentionally given him more time off to preserve his starter for the rest of the season.

“I feel good, so I don’t know if I need a break,” Stallings said, “I think Shelty mentioned … about a month ago, ‘If we keep catching you this much, we’re going to run you into the ground.'”

While Perez has had his struggles behind the plate — throwing out only one of a dozen base stealers this season and making a throwing error on first baseman Will Craig’s rundown fiasco against the Chicago Cubs — Stallings is supportive of how Perez has turned his season around with his bat.

“I mean, I can’t really say enough about Michael,” Stallings said, “especially as tough a start as he got off to offensively, to stick with it and come back — he’s had some really big swings of the bat for us, and he does a really good job behind the plate. I feel like we’ve made a pretty good tandem back there.”

Whether he continues to see more playing time, Perez promises to remain positive and keep taking aggressive swings.

“When it comes to the playing time, that’s their decision, and I respect whatever decision they make,” Perez said. “However, my mindset’s always on, I’m going to keep working hard, I’m going to continue taking advantage of every opportunity I get, and making sure that I demonstrate that I’m dependable for the team.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at or via Twitter .