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04/11/10 6:58 PM ET

Berkman targeting April 20 return

First baseman to remain in Houston, continue rehab

HOUSTON -- Astros first baseman Lance Berkman admitted Sunday he's surprised by how long his recovery from knee surgery has taken, and he's hopeful he can return to action when the Astros return home April 20. Berkman will stay in Houston for his rehab while the team travels to St. Louis and Chicago this week.

"The workout facilities, particularly in Chicago, are atrocious, so you can't get much done there in terms of rehab or strengthening or anything like that, so I think that played as big a factor as anything," Berkman said.

Berkman, on the disabled list after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on March 13, will continue treatment with physical therapist Matt Holland at The Methodist Hospital. He will also work on baseball skills to increase tolerance. Berkman has had the knee drained repeatedly to alleviate swelling.

"Same stuff I've been doing," Berkman said. "Again, it's pretty boring. I know everybody wants to know and you guys [the media] ask me about it all the time, and that's your job. I wish I had something to tell you, but I don't."

Berkman hit .274 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs last year, a season in which he missed 18 games while on the disabled list with a strained calf. The Astros open a three-game series in St. Louis on Monday and will play three at Chicago's Wrigley Field beginning Friday.

"It's not going to be any more frustrating than it is sitting here watching them play at home from the bench," Berkman said. "I just need to concentrate on trying to get better as quickly as I can. Time is a great healer. I can't do anything about it unless I'm healthy."

Elder Bush gives Mills pep talk

HOUSTON -- After addressing the media following the Astros' sixth consecutive loss to start the season, first-year manager Brad Mills was greeted at the clubhouse doors by former President George H.W. Bush, who was there to offer words of encouragement.

Bush, who along with former First Lady Barbara Bush, lives in Houston and attends several Astros games during the season, met with Mills for less than a minute as reporters filed into the clubhouse. Bush stayed for the entire game, which he rarely does.

"I thought today was going to be the day," Bush told Mills. "Hang in there, it's going to get better."

Mills, who has met Bush on previous occasions, was taken aback by the gesture.

"He's a special man, and that was a special gesture," Mills said.

Bush has attended at least three of the Astros games in the first homestand of the season, and he also attended a pair of Spring Training games last month in Kissimmee, Fla., as a guest of Astros owner Drayton McLane.

Mills says hitters not getting down

HOUSTON -- The Astros are hitting .222 as a team with two homers and 12 RBIs through the first six games of the season, and first-year manager Brad Mills believes his hitters are dealing with the frustrations pretty well.

"As a whole, their attitude and the way they've been going about everything is very good, both in the clubhouse and the field and the dugout," Mills said. "Frustration is going to be there for quite a few guys, but the way they're handling that is pretty good."

The Astros have been outscored, 37-13, and outhit, 70-46, while playing without injured slugger Lance Berkman. Carlos Lee is hitting .130 with no homers or RBIs, and Geoff Blum (.176), Hunter Pence (.095) and Kaz Matsui (.200) are struggling.

"I'm not pressing at all," Lee said. "I'm seeing the ball good. I think that something's going on mechanically. You've got to keep going. We still have 156 more games and 580 more at-bats, so there's a lot of games left to play and a lot of at-bats to take."

Pence was held out of the lineup Sunday, but Mills said that was in an attempt to get more left-handers into the lineup against Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

"I'm putting up good swings," said Pence, who's 2-for-21 at the plate. "I'm fouling pitches off and taking aggressive hacks. My hitting is going to come... They're robbing me when I do hit it hard, and I've just got to continue to stick with my approach and keep working. We're going to turn this around."

Lefties in lineup against Halladay

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills went with a predominantly left-handed-hitting lineup against Phillies starter Roy Halladay on Sunday, or least as much of a lefty lineup as Houston has.

Left-handed hitters Michael Bourn and Cory Sullivan (left field) were in the lineup, along with switch-hitters Geoff Blum (first base) and Kat Matsui.

"We've got to use Sully right now because he is swinging the bat real aggressively and having really good at-bats, and we want to get as many lefties in there as we can against [Halladay]," Mills said. "He's got that cutter he'll run in on the hands. He's tough."

Jeff Keppinger, who led the team with a .400 batting average through five games, made his fifth consecutive start of the season Sunday. Keppinger started at shortstop. Mills said starting shortstop Tommy Manzella is nursing a sore quadriceps.

"Manzella's quad was cramping [Saturday] night, and with a day game after a night game, we just kind of felt this would be a good day more than anything else," Mills said.

When it came to Hunter Pence (2-for-21) getting the day off, Mills said: "He's off to a rough start right now, but it's not a big deal. We'll give him the day off and go from there."

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