Despite sore knee, Rangers slugger Lance Berkman stays feisty

Posted Friday, Apr. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The extra bursts of speed that Lance Berkman showed Thursday night while turning a double play into a fielder’s choice — and a double into an out at third — would suggest that the 37-year-old’s surgically repaired right knee is feeling like it did 10 years ago.

Then again, maybe not.

“It definitely hurts,” Berkman admitted late Thursday, with the knee wrapped in ice.

Stopping is the worst, though that wasn’t why he tried to turn a double into a triple Thursday. Starting isn’t much better.

Oh, yeah, the cold doesn’t help him feel any better.

But Berkman was back in the lineup Friday night on a chilly night at Safeco Field and is willing to play during what are expected to be blustery conditions next week at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

He could be relegated to pinch-hitting duty only against the Cubs to protect him for the long haul. But despite being a self-described “post-mature buck,” Berkman still loves to compete and is setting an example for younger players on how the game should be played.

“He loves the game, is a team player and plays hard,” left fielder David Murphy said. “There are a lot of guys in this generation who do not play the game the right way. It’s great to see veterans set that example to ensure the game is played right going forward.”

The games next week at Wrigley Field will be played under National League rules, so the designated hitter won’t be in play. For Berkman to start, he’ll have to do so at first base.

Manager Ron Washington, though, seems inclined to sit Berkman if the weather is cold and wet, and relegate him to pinch-hitting duties. Berkman’s health is a key to the Rangers’ offense.

“The only thing I can say about that is we’ve got to wait and see,” Washington said. “I’ll probably be very cautious. Very cautious.”

Berkman wasn’t ready to fuss Friday afternoon. He believes he could be a capable hand at first base should Washington ask him to make a start in Chicago, but he is willing to yield to the manager’s decision to do what is best for the success of the team.

After entering Friday with team-highs in average (.448), on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (.724) and doubles (five), it would be hard to argue with Washington if he sits Berkman.

“I don’t like it when it’s cold and wet, and neither do my joints,” Berkman said. “I’m not going to be inactive. If I don’t start, I’m certainly going to be available to pinch hit any time Wash needs me.

“It’s tough when you’re old and three-quarters hurt and you’ve got 40 degrees and wet, it’s not a good scenario for a 25-year-old perfectly healthy superstar, much less a post-mature buck like myself.”

The roof at Safeco Field prevents the field from getting wet, so Berkman started the first two games of the four-game series and will likely start Saturday night and Sunday. His effort in Game 1 was lauded by Washington afterward.

Berkman beat out the back end of a potential double play in the fifth inning, a play that allowed David Murphy and Nelson Cruz to deliver two-out RBI hits that proved to be the difference between winning and losing.

The hustle play also sent a message to rest of the team.

“It was nature for him to do that,” Washington said. “You get some guys that hit ground balls into double plays and they just run down the line. That’s not Berkman. He may have bad knees, but he doesn’t cheat the game.

“Now, it takes the excuse from everybody else that doesn’t have bad knees that’s running better than he does. They have no excuse.”

Berkman downplayed the impact he made on the game by doing his job, saying simply that he didn’t want to be a rally-killer. But on a bad knee, in the cold and at age 37, Berkman’s competitiveness shouldn’t be downplayed.

His speed and the health of his right knee are another story.

“Flying might be a little bit of an exaggeration,” Berkman said. “It’s more of a soreness than a sharp pain. It’s constantly sore, but I’ll just do the best that I can as long as I can.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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