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Berkman on Astros: 'We're going to be much better'
04/18/2010 1:09 AM ET

While recovering with an ailing knee and seeing his team struggle out of the gates to open the season, Lance Berkman couldn't help but be eager to begin his two-game rehab assignment with the Express on Saturday night.

All with caution however.

The jovial five-time All-Star walked up to take batting practice wearing a catcher's mask, chest protector and knee guards telling Round Rock manager Marc Bombard: "You can never be too safe, right?"

Berkman started the night playing his normal position at first base and was happy with the way his knee responded after playing the first five innings, while recording three at-bats and collecting an RBI sacrifice fly in the Express' 5-4 loss to the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Astros assistant general manager Ricky Bennett, who is in town for the weekend, was also thrilled about the imminent arrival of the team's slugger.

"I was glad to see that he came out of tonight's game healthy and had a couple of good swings," Bennett said. "It didn't seem like he was favoring (his knee) at all; we talked to the training staff (following the game) and there is no swelling and he feels fine."

If all goes according to plan, Berkman could return to the Astros on Tuesday as they begin a home stand with the Florida Marlins.

Berkman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 13 and had hopes of being ready for Opening Day with the Astros, but swelling in the knee forced him to be put on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season.

With the Astros winning only two of their first 11 games to start the year, Bennett hopes him taking the three-hole spot in the lineup can bolster the offense.

"His presence in our lineup is going to benefit everybody," he said, "It takes the pressure off of everybody a little bit and the sooner we get him back the better we're going to be."

Berkman understands that the rehab assignment will help him adjust to live pitching, but is quick to point out that he isn't the cure all for the Houston.

"I don't expect to jump in there and we're going to score 10 runs a game," Berkman said. "It doesn't work like that, but it will be good to get back my spot in the lineup and it will help some of the other guys moving to where they need to be hitting."

Added Berkman on the outlook for the team after his return: "If we get the same type of pitching that we've gotten from our starters all year we're going to be a good ball team. The record doesn't look good right now but I'm encouraged by the way the guys have thrown the ball."

The assignment in Round Rock was somewhat of a homecoming for him as well. He was born in nearby Waco and grew up in New Braunfels.

"I love playing here," he said. "I was thinking driving over here about all the games I've played around here growing up and I love to be rehabbing here and it's convenient that we have the team right here and I am familiar with the area."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.