February 25, 2013

Lance Berkman isn’t the retiring kind

The Rangers are counting on him being healthy and a big bat out of the 3-hole in the batting order.

Always talkative, always seemingly upbeat, Lance Berkman broke into a typical Big Puma smile here Monday morning.

“It’s really humorous,” he said, standing at his clubhouse locker. “And it’ll really be funny if it works out like we all want it to work out.”

Oh, yeah. The Texas Rangers would love the last laugh on this deal.

In December, Berkman considered himself retired after 13 big league seasons. He had informed his agent of that decision, and was ready to move on into the real world.

Then the phone call came from the Rangers. Some have called it a desperate phone call. I admit to using the “desperate” word.

Anyway, large bucks were offered on a one-year deal as a designated hitter. With an $11 million contract parlayed with a chance to play for what has been a good club, plus the fact he could be close to his Texas (Houston-area) roots, and here Berkman is, in the Arizona outback ready to go.

Well, not exactly ready just yet. With a concession to his knee issues of last season while with the Cardinals, Lance has been basically shelved for the first two weeks of this camp. Maybe by Friday, maybe earlier, he will see some DH time in a Cactus League game.

He’s not injured. This is all about a precaution. “Heck,” said Berkman, “we are still in February. The club wanted to go easy. I’m ready to play, but it’s a good decision by them.”

The bigger decision, however, from the Rangers was signing Berkman, considering his age (37), combined with his injury wreckage of last season (only 81 at-bats all year). Even Lance knew it was time to retire. Until the Rangers called.

And look, he’s now slotted for the 3-hole in the batting order, and is considered a key element in the Rangers offense. (Didn’t ol’ what’s-his- name used to be the 3-hole hitter around here? Ol’ what’s-his-name had a bunch of RBIs the past five years, didn’t he?)

“Our overall run production is going to center a lot on Lance,” said team president Nolan Ryan, who adamantly uses the Berkman signing as a bounce-back rebuttal to those who say the Rangers had a miserable off-season of adding and subtracting from the 2012 roster.

“I really like our lineup, mainly because of the addition of Lance,” said manager Ron Washington. “And yes, before you ask, we are counting on him being healthy.”

“Around here, we have a great deal of trust in our medical staff,” noted general manager Jon Daniels. “No, nobody is ever totally right when giving a medical opinion on a player, but our guys have a good track record.

“If healthy, and our medical guys like those chances, Lance will be big for us.”

What the Rangers want is the 2011 Berkman. Thirty-one homers, 94 RBIs and the .301 average, plus a huge hit for the Cardinals in that Game 6 disaster for the Rangers.

“He didn’t suddenly forget how to hit last season,” said Ryan. “Lance will hit. Let’s just keep him healthy.”

Washington, in discussing his revised 2013 lineup, said he’s not being greedy with his expectations. And that’s a good thing. Greed is not healthy in this case.

David Murphy is being asked to play every day, which he showed last season is a possibility. Mitch Moreland, who was seemingly out of the current plans in January, is also being asked to play every day at first, and that’s an unknown.

Plus, Ian Kinsler is definitely in a bounce-back season from last year’s disappointments, and center field, with what is now a Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry platoon, could be a run-production hole.

The unknown also comes in right field, with Nellie Cruz facing a possible 50-game suspension.

“Give me 90 RBIs out of Lance, and let’s go from there,” said Washington. “Murph can give us 70, and Moreland 65, and I will live with that. Ian can get it back up there to 80, I know that. Then we’ve got A.J. [Pierzynski] to factor in and we expect an RBI upgrade from what we’ve gotten at catcher in the past.”

But the focus in the batting order?

“I got to say Lance in the 3-hole,” Washington said. “That’s where it will set up nice for us, allowing everything to kind of evolve.”

And there was Berkman on Monday morning, with the big “I’m unretired” smile.

“That would be humorous if all this works out right,” he repeated. “And that’s the way I’m planning on it to work out.”

The Rangers need for him to be right on that statement. Then everybody can smile.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

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