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Richard Justice

Berkman searching for answers at plate in 15th season

Berkman searching for answers at plate in 15th season

Berkman searching for answers at plate in 15th season

ARLINGTON -- Is he still capable of greatness? That's the question Lance Berkman occasionally asks himself.

"That's part of what makes this game interesting," he said.

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Berkman is 37 years old and hitting .167 in his first eight games in June. His power numbers are down, too. Solutions have been elusive.

"Just missing pitches," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "That's all. He'll get back on track."

As if to emphasize the point, he added: "Never doubt Berkman."

That's what the track record says. In his 15th season, Berkman has constructed a career resume that includes a .948 OPS, which is higher than that of both Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

Still, these last few weeks have been a struggle. He's hitting .242 since May 1, with just three home runs in 128 at-bats.

Doubt?

"I know I can compete at a certain level," he said. "I think the thing you wonder about is not whether I'm done or not, but can I be as good as I have been in the past? I think I can, but it's one of those things that if there's anyone wondering, that's where it comes in. Can I play at an All-Star level again? I don't know. Can I be reasonably competitive and help this team win? Absolutely."

Cal Ripken once said that the annoying thing about baseball is that when a young player goes into a slump, people wonder if he's done.

"And when you're an older player and go into a slump, people wonder if you're done," Berkman said. "There's this little period of time, a few years, when those questions aren't asked."

Berkman has always been one of those guys capable of diagnosing his problems, typically by feel.

This time, though, he feels good. He hasn't found a glaring problem in looking at video of his swings.

"That's the thing that's a bit perplexing about this year," he said. "I have an idea what I'm doing, but it's hard to see anything on the video. Most of the swings look pretty good.

"I'm really not swinging at very many bad pitches. That's the other thing I look at when I'm not going good. How much am I going outside the strike zone? I really haven't. I'm still walking a reasonable amount.

"I feel like the swings I'm taking are on good pitches to hit. I'm either fouling 'em off or swinging through 'em. I'm not really on the ball as consistently as I'd like to be."

Answers?

"I think it's more because I'm old and I'm struggling for consistency with my approach," he said. "As you get older, the body feels different on a daily basis. Some days, you show up, and you feel really strong. There are other days you show up, and it's just not there. You just don't feel it.

"As a consequence, it's difficult to maintain the consistency with your mechanics that you need to have to be successful. Not that it's impossible. As an example, let's say you come out for a couple of days, and you're not feeling as strong. Then you may try to generate some more bat speed with your body. That's a bad thing to do.

"You get into a habit of doing that, and it's hard to break. It's one of those things you have to be conscious of and fight through it."

His team is going through some of the same things. First baseman Mitch Moreland and second baseman Ian Kinsler are on the disabled list. So are starting pitchers Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando.

Now a team that looked almost invincible for about six weeks has lost nine of 15 and seen a 5 1/2-game lead in the American League West slip away. The Rangers began Tuesday with a one-game lead on the A's after spending two days in second place over the weekend.

"Nobody sits around and says, `Time out, let the Texas Rangers get healthy,'" Berkman said. "You go out there with what you've got and do the best you can. This organization has to be pleased with the way we've weathered some of these storms. Heck, we're still in first place, and we've been playing with about half our team for a long time. When we start to get guys back, it's just going to help us.

"When you have a challenge like this one and you come through it and you're successful, it helps you from a confidence standpoint. Mentally, you get a lot tougher. It also brings a team together and can really galvanize you as you head into the postseason if you're fortunate enough to make it."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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