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Notes: Slumping Berkman gets a rest

Notes: Slumping Berkman gets a rest

SAN FRANCISCO -- Lance Berkman has never been one to sulk or wallow in self pity when things aren't going quite as well as he'd like, so it should come as no surprise that he managed to crack a joke or two when approached by reporters prior to Wednesday's finale in San Francisco.

"I don't know how this team's going to cope without my .265 average and my six extra-base hits," Berkman said. "But I think they'll get along for one night."

Or perhaps two. Berkman did not start the Astros' game with the Giants Wednesday night, and manager Phil Garner is leaning toward resting him on Friday in Arizona, too. That plan could change, however, in light of the news that D-backs southpaw Randy Johnson received a cortisone injection in his wrist and will miss his start Friday with tendinitis in his left forearm.

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Considering Berkman is hitting .250 against left-handers this year, resting him while the team is facing Barry Zito and Johnson made sense. But even if Berkman does play on Friday, the basic facts still stand -- he's in the worst stretch of his career, and the slump is having negative effects on the club's record.

Some have speculated that Berkman is pressing, but the first baseman disagrees.

"I don't feel like I'm pressing, but my swing mechanics have gone by the wayside," he said. "From the very first day of Spring Training until right now, I have yet to step into the batter's box and feel normal or comfortable. I don't know why.

"Pressing is a mental thing. But I feel pretty calm in big situations. I like hitting better in big spots with runners on base. It helps my concentration. I think I've hit a lot better with runners in scoring position this year than I have in other situations. I don't feel like I'm pressing, I just feel like I'm off."

Berkman's numbers are down across the board. He's hitting 37 points below his career average, and he's on pace to hit around 15 home runs. Since 2001, he's averaged 33 homers per year.

He had one hit in eight at-bats in the first two games of the series and he has seven hits in 40 at-bats since May 11, causing his average to drop from .296 to .265. During that time, the Astros went 5-6.

Is he concerned?

"Concern might be a bad word," Berkman said. "I get irritated because I know I'm expected to carry a lot of the load here offensively, and when I'm not doing it, I feel like I'm letting people down. That's the worst part of it.

"I'm not worried that my skills have eroded at age 31. I just think it's something that it's just a bump in the road, basically. I don't like the feeling of being depended upon and then not coming through."

Jennings, Lidge en route: Jason Jennings and Brad Lidge will meet the Astros in Phoenix on Thursday and are expected to be in uniform for the opener with the D-backs.

Jennings, who allowed four runs over 3 1/3 innings in his second and final rehab outing in Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday night, will likely not be activated from the disabled list until just before his first start, which is tentatively slated for May 29.

Lidge flew to Houston from San Francisco early Wednesday morning to have his right knee examined by team medical director David Lintner. Lidge was diagnosed with a bone bruise on his right femur near the knee cap, and while the club is hopeful he'll be available to pitch this weekend, the worst-case scenario suggests the earliest he could come back would be Tuesday.

"He felt good today," Garner said. "He may be available this weekend."

Catching change: For most of the season, Brad Ausmus has caught every starting pitcher except for Woody Williams, who has been paired with Humberto Quintero.

That could change, however. Quintero was in Wednesday's lineup to catch Matt Albers, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Quintero may serve as the personal catcher to someone other than Williams from here on out.

Williams and Quintero seemingly have struggled to stay in sync for much of the season, and Williams may be more comfortable with Ausmus, a veteran of 14 seasons.

Happy birthday: Chris Sampson turned 29 on Wednesday and treated himself to "a couple of new shirts" during an abbreviated shopping spree in San Francisco earlier that day.

According to the always-reliable Astros media relations staff, Sampson shares a birthday with comedian Drew Carey, singer Jewel and Jeopardy whiz Ken Jennings, who had a record-setting 74 consecutive wins, netting $2.52 million.

Coming up: The Astros will travel to Phoenix to begin a four-game series with the D-backs on Thursday. The opener, which begins at 8:40 p.m. CT, will feature left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (2-3, 3.99 ERA) and righty Micah Owings (2-1, 4.96).

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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