Houston Astros manager Cecil Cooper thought a tender groin might sideline Lance Berkman for the team’s last game. Cooper soon realized that it’s going to take a lot more than that to stop baseball’s hottest hitter.
After leading the Astros to another victory despite the nagging injury, Berkman hopes to continue to fuel the team’s surge as it continues its four-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
Houston (22-17) has won nine of 10 games in May, including the first four of its season-high 10-game road trip. Berkman has been the catalyst for the team’s success, batting .641 (25-for-39) with eight multihit games this month. He has reached base in 28 of his last 37 plate appearances, and scored a run in a franchise record-tying 15 straight games.
Though the switch-hitting first baseman was questionable with a groin injury, both Berkman and the Astros continued their hot streaks in the series opener on Monday night.
Houston trailed 3-0 after five innings, but Berkman delivered a two-run homer as part of a game-tying, three-run sixth inning. He also doubled and scored in Houston’s three-run eighth as the Astros pulled out a 7-3 victory.
“The guys are playing well and you want to try and win as many games as you can when it’s like this,” said Berkman, who ranks in the majors’ top two in home runs (13), RBIs (38), runs scored (42), batting average (.393) and on-base percentage (.470). “The offense hung around until we got the opportunity.”
As for the groin problem, Berkman expects it to linger, but he doesn’t anticipate missing any time.
“As long as I keep it manageable, this is the way it’s going to be until it gets better,” he said. “If I stay smooth, there should no trouble. It doesn’t bother me when I’m swinging.”
The Giants (16-23) had won consecutive games before Monday’s defeat - their sixth in eight games. They also fell to 5-12 against NL Central clubs.
They’ll try to improve on that mark Tuesday by handing the ball to Matt Cain (1-3, 4.50 ERA). San Francisco had won three straight with the right-hander on the mound before he was reached for five runs and nine hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Cain hopes to bounce back with a return to AT&T Park, where he’s 4-2 with a 2.24 ERA in his last nine starts dating to last season.
Overall, he’s 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two career starts against the Astros.
Berkman’s one hit in three career at-bats against Cain was a two-run home run on April 13, 2006.
Brandon Backe (2-4, 4.64) gets the start for Houston. The right-hander struck out a career-high nine on Thursday, but also gave up four runs in six innings of the 8-3 loss to Washington.
Backe has only lasted past the sixth inning once this season, but he recorded his only career complete game against the Giants on May 15, 2005.
Overall, he is 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA in three career starts versus San Francisco.