Archive for Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Astros outfielder evolving

Berkman among leader in homers, RBIs in second season

May 7, 2002


— Lance Berkman was trying to decide last week whether it was more important to hit for power or average.

How about both?

In his second full season in the big leagues, the Astros' outfielder on Monday found himself leading the majors in RBIs (35) and sharing the lead in home runs with Sammy Sosa (13).

Berkman, selected Monday as NL player of the week, raised his average to .301 with a 3-for-5, two-homer, five-RBI performance on Sunday during a 12-1 win over the New York Mets.

"As hitters, you joke around and say, 'Would you rather hit .250 with a lot of home runs and RBIs or hit .350 with not as many home runs or RBIs?"' the switch hitter said. "You want to hit for a high average, but your job is to produce runs.

"If you can do that with a home run, that's good."

Berkman ended April hitting just .255, despite his strong home run and RBI production. But in his first five games in May, Berkman is 10-for-19 (.526) with nine RBIs and three homers.

So is real Berkman a man of power, average or both?

"I don't have enough experience to say how it's going to turn out after the first month of the season, to be this way or that way," Berkman said. "Hopefully, I'll just start to be more comfortable at the plate. That's my goal."

Despite his home run success, Berkman is trying to find the right stroke.

"My approach is worse this year," Berkman said. "I haven't really felt comfortable for any stretch like last year. The mark of a good hitter is someone who hits the ball hard often, and if you run into a few home runs, that's fine.

"But you need to hit singles on the line, and I haven't done that this year so far."

Former teammate Chris Truby, now with Montreal , said he isn't surprised at Berkman's success.

"When I played with him in the minors, you could tell right away he was going to be special," Truby said. "He had that swing and that unbelievable power. He'll be hitting .330 before it's over."

Berkman was an All-Star in his first full major league season in 2001, hitting .331 third in the NL and driving in 126 runs. That earned Berkman a three-year contract worth $10.5 million.

First-year manager Jimy Williams put Berkman in center field this season and shifted Richard Hidalgo from center to right. Although Berkman lacks the speed to be a natural center fielder, Williams is pleased.

"He's done extremely well for me on both sides of the line, offensively and defensively," Williams said. "He seems to have settled in on a daily basis a little more in the outfield."

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