ST. LOUIS – Don’t count out Lance Berkman just yet.
Barely a week removed from what was described as season-ending surgery on his right knee, the Cardinals outfielder said Wednesday he’s holding out hope that he can return before the season ends.
Berkman had surgery on Sept. 11 to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, the same knee he had surgery on in May. The switch-hitter has played just 31 games this season.
“I’m not ruling out a return by the end of the regular season the way it feels, but I’m not ruling it in either,” Berkman said. “I’m hopeful that if I can get this swelling calmed down from the surgery, if I can get a little strength back in there and if I can get back in the batting cage and see how it feels, and all of these are big ifs, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.”
The 36-year-old Berkman is hitting .263 with two home runs and seven RBI in limited duty this season while dealing with a lingering issue in his right knee. Berkman also spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a calf strain.
Asked about the knee, Berkman said, “I feel really good about it. It never really felt right but now it feels right again. It’s still sore from the surgery, I can tell I still have some swelling, but the things that they did made it feel at least it’s operating normally.
“I’m walking pretty much like I normally do. I can just tell there’s nothing hanging up in the joint like there was before this cleanup.”
Berkman first injured the knee while stretching for a ball at first base on May 19. Fearing that he may need season-ending ACL surgery, the slugger was relieved to find out that he only needed repairs to his meniscus.
He returned July 14 but was drilled by a Clayton Kershaw pitch just ten days later in the exact same spot where the surgery took place. He tried play through the pain before landing on the disabled list on August 3 to strengthen the area.
Berkman took a rehab stint to Triple-A Memphis and was activated by the Cardinals when rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but played just three games and had five at-bats before electing for additional surgery on his right knee.
It was announced that the borderline Hall of Famer would miss the rest of the season last week at the time of the surgery. But the knee has made enough progress in seven days that Berkman has at least begun to think about playing again before the season ends.
“And it may be that way,” Berkman said. “But I think that’s the normal thinking, what I had done, 4-6 weeks is kind of the normal prognosis but it felt good enough yesterday just walking around on it where I thought this might be a possibility.”
The six-time All-Star recently achieved his 1,200th career RBI and has a resume that also includes a .296 batting average, 1,843 hits, 360 home runs, 1,163 walks and 1,119 runs scored.
He was a huge part of the Cardinals’ World Series run a season ago, hitting a home run in Game 6 against the Texas Rangers before tying the score with a two-out hit in the 10th inning. He hit .301 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI in 2011 before returning to the Cardinals on a one-year deal in 2012.
The Cardinals entered play Wednesday with a 1.5 game lead for the second wild card spot in the National League.
“We’d love to have him,” Matheny said. “If he gets there, we’d certainly put him on the list and see how he looks. We’d love to be able to use him.
“I talked to him the last couple days and you could see he was excited with how he feels. That would be a nice bullet to have.”
Berkman has hinted at retiring after the season multiple times this year but said Wednesday he wouldn’t make any determination about his future until he sees what interest others teams have after the season.
The Houston Astros have become a logical destination should he want to continue his career. Berkman lives in Houston and the club is moving to the American League, where he could serve as a designated hitter.
Asked if that possibility interested him Wednesday, Berkman said, “Not really. Obviously that’s been talked about and I’m not ruling anything out but at the same token, as it sits today, that’s not something I’m super interested in.
“If I don’t feel good enough to play the field, I wouldn’t want to just limp around as a DH. If I can’t get the thing back to where I feel like its pretty close to 100 percent, I’m not going to fool with it.”
Berkman will stay in St. Louis to rehab while the club goes to Chicago this weekend but will rejoin them next week in Houston. He plans to travel with the team the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, whether he is able to return to the field or not.
If he were somehow able to return, he’d be the second Cardinals player this season to return despite having what was announced as season-ending surgery. Starter Chris Carpenter will make his season debut on Friday after his season was figured to be over following surgery in July.