MILWAUKEE – Lance Berkman figured skipping a rehab assignment might cause him to not see the ball well or feel uncomfortable in the box his first few games back.
He didn’t expect to not have any bat speed.
The Cardinals wanted the veteran to play a few minor league games after missing nearly two months due to knee surgery, but Berkman declined and said he felt good enough to work himself back into playing shape at the big league level.
But he’s 0-for-9 with four strikeouts since returning on Saturday. He flew out to the edge of the warning track in left field with the bases loaded and the tying run at third base to end Wednesday’s game.
“It’s funny because I feel great in terms of the way I’m seeing the ball,” Berkman said. “I’m not really swinging at a lot of bad pitches. I feel like I’m seeing the ball great. I feel like my timing is good.
“What’s lacking is the bat speed. I just don’t have any bat speed right now. That ball I hit in the ninth, that’s a grand slam. I mean that ball is hit well enough on the bat to where I feel like if I have my normal bat speed, it goes out of the ballpark. But I don’t and it died on the warming track.”
Berkman played in just 13 games before going down with a knee injury on May 19. He had surgery soon after and was cleared to begin baseball activities the week before the All-Star break.
It appeared Berkman was open to going on a rehab assignment to work on his timing but later talked the club into letting him join them in Cincinnati and work his way back as a pinch-hitter and part-time player.
And he felt good during batting practice sessions, unable to tell that not swinging for six weeks would be a problem until he stepped in for a real at-bat.
“It’s like spring training all over again,” Berkman said. “When you come into spring training, you feel good, you’re in good shape, but whatever it is, I don’t know if its your nervous system or the little muscles that create bat speed – if you don’t hit and hit and hit, they just aren’t there and it takes a while. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer.”
Asked if he regrets not going on a rehab assignment because of his current struggles, Berkman said, “I guess you could second guess that, but again, you just don’t know what the circumstances are going to be until you try it. I was more concerned with seeing the ball and feeling good in the box which is not a problem. I feel good in the batters box.”
Manager Mike Matheny pointed to Berkman’s three walks in five games since returning and said he hasn’t had a problem with the at-bats he’s taken. He wouldn’t, however, say if his slugger would have been better off had he played a few games in the minor leagues.
“He’s put together some pretty good at-bats, worked some walks. He’s probably the first to tell you that his timing is not exactly right but we knew that going on. He’s a professional hitter and has been for a long time and we know he’s really close. He hit that last ball pretty good. We know that he’s close.”
Berkman has started just two of the five games since he returned. He struck out as a pinch-hitter on a key check-swing call in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game with the tying run on third base.
The 36-year-old was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year last year after hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI. And a struggling Cardinals offense could sure use Berkman putting up numbers like that.