SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Lance Berkman may be 37 years old, coming off knee surgery and battling a right-calf strain that has lingered all spring.
But in his first at-bat as a Ranger on Thursday, he was the same old Lance Berkman. He fought. He grinded. He took two borderline strikes, fouled three more off and worked his way back from an 0-2 count for a leadoff walk.
Though he said his timing at the plate felt a bit off, Berkman went 1-for-2 in his Rangers debut after his calf trouble held him out of the club's first six Spring Training games. He showed no ill effects in the first inning, which saw him go first-to-third on a double and then slide into home plate on a dribbler to the pitcher.
"It was good to get the first one out of the way," Berkman said after the Rangers' 10-0 victory against Cleveland. "Hopefully I'll get in the rhythm of playing and the timing will come and stay together."
For Berkman, that's never been a more questionable proposition than this spring. He is coming off a season in which he totaled just 81 at-bats and played in only 32 games for the Cardinals. He had his season cut short in September by knee surgery.
There may be some extra rust that Berkman needs to shake off, but so far he said he feels the same way he has at the start of every Spring Training.
"Obviously, at some point, you're not going to have it," said Berkman, who hit leadoff Thursday so he could get his at-bats in. "I don't think that happens at 37, necessarily. I certainly don't feel like I did when I was 25 or 26, but that doesn't mean I can't be competitive, and that doesn't mean I can't be the same type of hitter."
Manager Ron Washington isn't concerned at all about what Berkman has left in the tank. As long as the switch-hitting Berkman is healthy, Washington said he'll be in the lineup almost every day. For now, however, the plan is to give Berkman another day off on Friday.
"I know what he's capable of doing," Washington said. "I understand what it's like to get in there the first time you get to face live [pitching] in a competitive situation, so my only concern is that when it's all over, he's healthy."
Of course, Washington and Berkman have a bit of a history, if indirectly.
It was Berkman's two-out, two-strike single in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series for the Cardinals that prevented Washington and the Rangers from claiming their first World Series title.
"They probably haven't forgotten about it," Berkman said of the Rangers fans he hopes to endear himself to this summer. "But I hope that they will not hold it against me too much this year when I'm going out there and trying to win games for the Rangers."
Berkman lined a single in the second inning Thursday and popped out an inning later in what proved to be his final at-bat of the day. He said his swing was affected very little by his leg ailments, but the general soreness that comes from a baseball season's grind is what concerns him most.
As a switch hitter, Berkman will have to feel comfortable from both sides of the plate, a prospect that -- for many hitters -- might seem tougher given a shortened Spring Training and a battle with injuries.
"When you're young and you're still learning your craft, maybe," Washington said. "I think Lance knows his craft. He can handle the pitching on both sides of the plate."
For now, he's just plain rusty. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"If two weeks from now I still feel like this, then I'll say, 'Yeah, there's more rust that needs to come off,'" Berkman said. "But it's not unusual to feel a little behind and trying to catch up to the fastball. The game's fast."