Lance Berkman now aiming to return from knee surgery next week

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Lance Berkman said this afternoon that he’s hoping to return from knee surgery for the Astros’ six-game road trip that begins Monday. “I had it in my mind I would like to be back in that series, anyway,” Berkman told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. “I’m not guaranteeing it … but I’m starting to feel better and that is a possibility.”
Berkman underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 13, received a cortisone shot on Opening Day, and then had his knee drained Monday for the fifth time, saying: “For the first time I feel it is heading in the right direction.” However, some of his other quotes suggest it may take a while before he’s back at full strength:

Getting out of bed is a lot easier, and that helps and makes you feel better. I don’t have to consciously pick my knee up with my hands and stick it in the bed. I can get in now without any assistance. As far as baseball stuff, it feels a lot better than it has, and it’s not as swollen. I can bend it a lot easier.

Houston’s lineup will be bad even with a healthy Berkman, but they’ll be downright terrible offensively if he struggles to get back on track or needs another stint on the disabled list. After all, Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth in the lineup while replacing him at first base through three games, which is all kinds of silly.
They scored two runs against Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, were shut out yesterday against Barry Zito, and currently have one run through six innings against Matt Cain this afternoon. Obviously the pitching matchups will get easier, but Houston ranked 14th among NL teams in scoring last year and things don’t figure to be much different this time around. They may need a healthy Berkman just to avoid finishing with fewer than 75 wins for the third time in four years.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.