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04/21/09 1:52 AM ET

Berkman working hard to shake slump

Astros first baseman in midst of uncharacteristic slow start

HOUSTON -- Despite his reputation as a laid-back jokester who doesn't overdo it in the weight room, Astros slugger Lance Berkman has a dirty little secret -- he's a really hard worker.

Berkman, however, prefers to put in his time behind the scenes, where those pesky reporters can't find him -- places like the weight room in the back of the spacious home clubhouse, and in the batting cages, tucked away in a faraway place where reporters aren't allowed.

But on Monday, Berkman put in some overtime in a different fashion. He was on the field, in clear view of everyone, including those media-types sniffing around for new and innovative nuggets of information.

Berkman is the third veteran to take early batting practice with hitting coach Sean Berry during the four-game homestand with the Reds. It's probably an exaggeration to suggest Berkman is desperate, but still, a .200 batting average after 12 games of the season is disconcerting.

Berkman took swings from both sides of the plate. He's not looking for any magical answers as to why he's struggling; he simply wants to get better, quickly.

"Hitting is a feel," he said. "You just try to get a feel. There's no particular reason why it's this or that. I just want to try to feel good about my swing. That's pretty much what it was. There was no mechanical secret, like, oh, you've got to do this or you've got to do that."

Berkman usually has strong starts every year, which makes his struggles in the early going this season puzzling. In his career, he's hit .285 in April, .319 in May and .312 in June. Last year, he hit .303 in April before embarking on an historical May, during which he hit .471.

Entering Monday's finale with the Reds, Berkman had eight hits in 40 at-bats.

"I feel pretty good. I just haven't been as consistent with my swing as I'd like," he said. "I'm trying to get a little extra work in to smooth it out."

Berkman isn't the only one struggling. Through 12 games, the Astros were 11th in the National League in batting average and hits, 13th in home runs, 15th in RBIs and last in runs scored.

Still, considering how consistent Berkman has been over the course of his 10-year career, any lull is going to attract attention.

As Berkman worked with Berry on the field, manager Cecil Cooper gave Puma his personal vote of confidence.

"I know Lance struggled a little bit last year toward the end of the year," Cooper said. "It could be in the back of his mind. It's not on mine. I know he's a great hitter, one of the best hitters in the game. Sometimes he doesn't play to that, but we all have struggles."

Berkman homered in his third at-bat on Monday, tying the game at 2. He also tied Craig Biggio for second on the club's all-time homer list with 291. Jeff Bagwell is the leader with 449.

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