Shortly before being traded to the Yankees, former teammate and Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell spotted a flaw in Lance Berkman’s swing.
The conversation was short, direct and went something like this: “Dude, you’re not using your legs at all on your swing.”
Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long noticed the same thing. After hearing about it from another voice, Berkman is still trying to apply it to every at-bat.
“You just have to keep doing it and doing it,” Berkman said before last night’s 7-2 loss to Tampa Bay. “The key to this game is repetition and being able to take your muscle memory from the batting cage into the game and you just have to engrain it in your mind. You just have to do it so much in the cage that when you go in the game it’s the same.”
At first, Berkman’s swing felt out of whack and he started 7-for-39 before landing on the disabled list Aug. 15 with a hamstring injury.
It was the continuation of the first extended slump of Berkman’s his 12-year career and this year began with him on the DL following left knee surgery. Other than 34 games as rookie, Berkman never batted below .270 and had four seasons over .300, including two years ago when he hit .312.
While Berkman is not about to use the knee injury as an excuse, it may have sub-consciously entered his mind and until Bagwell brought it to his attention, he was searching for a solution.
“It was a mystery to me,” Berkman said. “This is such a high level and you slip a little bit, it’s like a pack of wolves. The competition is too good. You have to be right on top of your game and if you’re not, you’re going to get snowballed and that’s kind of part of what’s happened to me.”
Now after a slow start, Berkman is not worried about searching for flaws and the numbers have shown glimpses of the feared cleanup hitter from Houston. His two-run double Tuesday gave him 14 hits in his last 40 at-bats and a .360 (18-for-50) average since returning Sept. 1.
“He just makes it a lot deeper and is guy that has played in big games and that’s been very successful offensively,” manager Joe Girardi said.