Lance Berkman eyes return

ST. LOUIS -- Lance Berkman expects to be back in the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup soon after the All-Star break. Maybe even the first day back.

"Yeah, it's possible," Berkman said Monday after joining the team to continue rehab from a right knee injury. "It wouldn't shock me. I'm not banking on it, but at the same time I'm not ruling it out."

The first baseman has been sidelined since undergoing surgery in late May that turned out to be relatively minor. Berkman said that swelling was minimal after the procedure and he began running a week ago, and that his rehab was right on schedule.

"I haven't run into any trouble yet and don't anticipate that I will," Berkman said. "So far, it's worked exactly like we anticipated."

The switch-hitting Berkman took 25 swings of soft toss from each side several hours before the Cardinals played the Colorado Rockies. He'll have to get into baseball shape before taking a rehab assignment and manager Mike Matheny said Berkman hasn't done much side to side movement yet, and Berkman said he wanted to be able to tolerate 100 swings from each side.

Matheny said the timetable was "pretty vague" for the 36-year-old Berkman, the comeback player of the year last season after batting .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs. "He looks like he's fit and ready to go, it's just going to be how he responds to every test that we give him."

The Cardinals' first game after the break is July 13 at Cincinnati.

Berkman was batting .333 in just 13 games with one homer and four RBIs. He joked that Allen Craig has done so well starting at first base that he may return as a reserve. Craig was batting .311 with 11 homers, 11 doubles and 39 RBIs in 39 games.

"You don't want to come back and hamper the team," Berkman said. "Heck, I may be coming back as a pinch hitter."

Last year's World Series champions entered the day in third place in the NL Central, 2½ games behind the Reds. They've had to weather several injuries, with Chris Carpenter yet to pitch due to a nerve issue in his shoulder, left-hander Jaime Garcia likely to miss another month with a shoulder strain, and the lineup missing Craig and Jon Jay for extended periods.

Garcia and reliever Kyle McClellan begin throwing programs on Tuesday, with McClellan also not expected back until August.

"I think the best baseball is in front of this team," Berkman said.