SAN DIEGO • Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman will undergo additional surgery on his right knee Friday morning, effectively ending his season and further focusing him on possible retirement.
Berkman underwent his second magnetic resonance imaging in less than three weeks Monday. A determination was made that he requires additional meniscus shaved from a knee that already has required three surgeries, including one this May after the joint gave way during the team’s first trip to Los Angeles.
Berkman eventually returned, only to take a Clayton Kershaw pitch off the same knee during the teams’ late July series at Busch Stadium.
"Ever since I got hit in the knee by Kershaw I’ve been having issues with it grabbing whenever I get in certain positions," Berkman said. "They don’t know if it’s scar tissue or whether part of my cartilage has come loose and is flapping around in there. I’ve had three surgeries on the joint; it’s not going to look pretty. There is something going on in there."
Berkman, 36, repeatedly has broached possible retirement in recent weeks. He endured a difficult minor-league rehab assignment at Triple-A Memphis before rejoining the Cardinals Sept. 1. Berkman made one start and two pinch-hit appearances. The knee, however, never offered relief and running became a chore.
Berkman on Sunday told general manager John Mozeliak, manager Mike Matheny and the team’s training staff that he is unable to hit left-handed because his front leg is unstable.
"It may be arthritis and there’s nothing else we can do," Berkman said. "Another component is peace of mind. I don’t have a lot of pain, but I’m gun-shy. Part of me feels I can drag myself out there and pinch-hit. Another part feels like I’m a step away from doing serious damage."
Berkman has little remaining cartilage in the right knee. He also has experienced discomfort in the left knee as he has compensated for the right’s instability.
"Given my history, everybody involved including the Cardinal organization thought this was the best thing to do," said Berkman, who has investigated a possible return to Rice University to complete his degree.
Matheny recognized Berkman’s limitations as soon as he returned from Memphis but hoped he might produce a lightning-bolt swing that could turn a game.
"I’m disappointed for him and disappointed for us, too," Matheny said. "We were talking about it: He could have been a Kirk Gibson kind of at-bat. You just don’t know when he could step in there and make a big difference."
Matheny referred to Berkman being "as beat up mentally as he was physically. That takes its toll on you."
Friday’s surgery is not expected to be an involved procedure. Berkman hopes to attend the Cardinals’ final home stand and said he wants to travel with the club should it reach the postseason. He said he is not certain about his future.
"I’m leaving my options open," he said.
Regarding a possible return to his alma mater as an undergraduate and student assistant, he said, "If you don’t do groundwork before a decision’s made you end up lost for a couple of years. When it comes time for me to make the decision, I want everything in line."
Said Matheny: "There were times when I said, ‘I don’t care if you can’t hit against your front side. I think you’re going to put together a great at-bat.’ But you could see he was just fighting."
Three trips to the disabled list limited Berkman to 80 games this season.
He finishes the season with two home runs and seven RBIs, the last coming on a July 27 home run against the Chicago Cubs that left him with 360 career home runs and 1,200 RBIs.
"I feel like I’ve pretty much exhausted all other avenues," Berkman said. "I did the strength program and two injections, one in each knee. There were things we tried. It wasn’t happening. Unfortunately this is the last resort. I gave it a go."
Lynn Replaces Westbrook
The Cardinals assigned Thursday’s start against the Los Angeles Dodgers to Lance Lynn rather than either of two rookie righthanders, Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal.
The need arose when Westbrook suffered a strained oblique during Saturday’s outing against Milwaukee. The club initially thought it would end Westbrook’s season but a subsequent MRI showed the condition more localized than first believed. Mozeliak said Monday he thinks the chances are better than 50-50 that Westbrook pitches again this month.
It is virtually certain Westbrook will miss at least two turns, prompting a call regarding his replacement.
Lynn, shifted to the bullpen last month after a difficult second half, retains a major edge in experience. Neither Rosenthal nor Miller has made a major-league start. Miller has just two major-league appearances, the second coming on Monday.
"A lot of thought went into it — just the whole scenario of being in LA, against LA, being where we are (in the standings) right now. That’s a lot to throw on a young player," Matheny said. "Lance has pitched in as many high-leverage situations as anybody, so we know that’s not going to affect him. We believe in his stuff."
Carpenter takes another stEp
Chris Carpenter threw 70 pitches in four simulated innings against hitters Monday. The outing was impressive enough for the Cardinals to envision him starting soon, but it won’t be Saturday in Los Angeles.
Pressed about Carpenter’s return to the mound, Matheny waved off the possibility following the session, insisting Carpenter would work another simulation before being activated.
"He’s moving the ball around well and the life is there," Matheny said. "Anybody can go out and throw it in a game. It’s whether he’s going to be effective or not. Now it looks like his stuff is normal."
Less than a month removed from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, Carpenter said he had command of his full assortment of pitches and said he felt comfortable during the session.
All parties are divorcing the urgency of a pennant race from Carpenter’s availability.
"I think everybody is trying to stay independent of that just because going into surgery we were expecting me not to pitch until next year," Carpenter said. "Just because there are some things going on here that show a little urgency, we still have to be smart.
"If I’m not ready to go, the next thing you know I’m not only down for the rest of this year but if something happens I’m down for next year."