ST. LOUIS -- After nearly a six-week absence, during which he underwent surgery on his right knee and did subsequent rehab, Lance Berkman returned to the Cardinals' clubhouse on Monday. His next return -- to the field, of course -- might not be far behind.
Initially expected to be sidelined for eight to 10 weeks, Berkman suggested that he could be off the disabled list as early as the start of the season's second half. That would be in 11 days, on July 21, when the Cardinals end the four-day All-Star break by playing a series in Cincinnati.
And even if that proves to be too aggressive a timetable, Berkman doesn't expect to be delayed much longer.
"The plan all along was get [the rehab started] in Houston to where I could do the baseball stuff, then come back here and do the baseball stuff and be ready to go," Berkman said. "So far it's worked exactly like we anticipated it."
Monday marked the first time Berkman had swung a bat since undergoing surgery to address a torn meniscus and loose cartilage. He hit off soft toss in the batting cage, an exercise he will continue for the next few days, before advancing to on-field batting practice.
He has resumed running as well, doing mostly forward-and-back work. Putting his knee through more lateral movements will come soon. After a month of rigorous rehab on the knee, Berkman has little doubt about his strength.
"The leg feels good," he said. "It's just the rest of me that needs to get in shape. You've got to kind of take a little Spring Training all over again and get back ready to go. I don't know how long that will take. It might jump right back."
Undetermined, still, is whether Berkman will follow all this work in St. Louis with a Minor League stint. He has reiterated several times that he is not a fan of heading out on such an assignment, but he will have missed nearly two months of the season, even if he returns late next week. A rehab stint would give him the opportunity to test his timing against game pitching.
"This is the Major Leagues, the best [players] in the world," said Berkman, who shed about eight pounds during his time away. "After having [been] out for what will almost be two months, I'm going to be rusty. There's no doubt. You just can't expect to jump back in there and be great. That's a question I'm curious about myself. Sometimes it comes right back to you, and sometimes it takes you a little bit. So we'll see."