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Berkman passes physical for deal to be Rangers DH

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Berkman passes physical for deal to be Rangers DH

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Lance Berkman chose the Texas Rangers this time, and is returning to his home state to be their designated hitter in likely the last stop of his career.

The Rangers completed an $11 million, one-year deal with Berkman on Monday after the slugger passed a physical.

``I spent the first part of the offseason really feeling like I was going to retire,'' said Berkman, who turns 37 next month and had still been working out as if he would play. ``The Rangers made a very strong offer, which got my attention. ... The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it, and that's when I knew I had to come back and play.''

Berkman gets a $10 million salary this year. There is a $12 million club option for 2014 would become a guaranteed $13 million if he has 550 plate appearances this season. There is also a $1 million buyout for the second year.

Berkman provides the potential big bat for the middle of the lineup the Rangers were seeking after losing slugger Josh Hamilton in free agency and trading Michael Young to Philadelphia. Mike Napoli remains a free agent, but isn't expected to return to Texas.

The switch-hitting Berkman also adds some versatility to a lineup filled with right-handers. He has a .307 average left-handed and .260 right-handed.

The six-time All-Star is coming off an injury-plagued season in St. Louis, where he dealt with a strained left calf and had two operations on his right knee. He was limited to 32 games.

``I like where I am right now. The structural condition of the knee, I don't think I'm going to have any issues there,'' Berkman said. ``I think it's about as good as could be expected after the trauma that I experienced last year.''

Berkman expects to be ready for the season and to be primarily the designated hitter, especially early. He is willing to play first base and even the outfield when physically able. He feels he could play first now.

Texas also was interested in Berkman when he was a free agent two years ago, after the Rangers made their first World Series appearance.

``I joked with Lance it's probably two years too late in the making,'' general manager Jon Daniels said. ``It would have been great two years ago and is still great now. We're excited to have him in our lineup and our organization.''

Berkman instead went to St. Louis, saying then he thought Texas was going to be an average team. The Cardinals made it to the World Series in 2011 and won the title in seven games against the Rangers.

In the series-turning Game 6, when Texas was twice with in a strike of clinching the title, Berkman had a two-run homer in the first inning and a tying RBI single in the 10th.

As for the Rangers now, Berkman said likes the way the lineup is configured in that ``it's less dependent on one or two guys, and the onus of production is going to be spread out up and down the lineup.''

He also likes the pitching staff, which includes Yu Darvish and left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.

``It's not the same situation as it was a couple of years ago,'' Berkman said.

While Berkman will play some first base, Daniels said the Rangers have decided to leave Ian Kinsler at second. They will go to spring training with the intention of letting Mitch Moreland have a chance to be the regular first baseman.

Texas designated left-hander Tommy Hottovy for assignment to clear a spot on its 40-man roster for Berkman.

Born in Waco and raised in Austin, Berkman went to college at Rice and began his major league career in 1999 with the Houston Astros, who this year are joining the Rangers in the AL West.

``This to me is a natural fit, it does not feel weird at all,'' Berkman said of the Rangers.

After 11 1/2 seasons with the Astros and being part of their only World Series team in 2005, Berkman was traded to the Yankees on July 31, 2010. He finished that season with New York, which lost to Texas in the AL championship series, before going to the Cardinals.

Berkman is a .296 career hitter with 360 home runs and 1,200 RBIs in 1,806 regular-season games, all but 214 of those with the Astros. In 34 career games at Rangers Ballpark, Berkman is hitting .289 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 121 at-bats.

The Rangers open the regular season at Houston on March 31 in MLB's first game this season, a Sunday prime-time matchup featuring the new AL West rivalry.

Berkman was an All-Star in 2011 with the Cardinals when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 145 games. His injuries last season limited him to 81 at-bats, and he hit .259 with two homers and seven RBIs.

``If he's on the field, if he's healthy, he's going to produce, he's going to perform. I'm very confident,'' Daniels said. ``He's a really good fit, and so I think from that standpoint, we were willing to take a little bit of the risks on the health side.''

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Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

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USA Today Sports

Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

Lamar Jackson is the most popular man in Baltimore. 

In his second season with the Ravens, it’s impossible to *not* see his name everywhere you look. His number eight jersey is quickly becoming as synonymous with the Ravens as Cal Ripken Jr.’s was with the Orioles.

Jackson has taken the NFL by storm in 2019, forcing himself into the MVP debate.

Longtime fan Rick Gibson said the Jackson era has a different feel than the previous Joe Flacco-led team.

“It’s fun coming to games,” he said before Sunday's matchup against the Texans. "A lot better than it has been in the past, so it’s more exciting.”

With the flip of a switch -- or rather, the draft pick of a quarterback -- fan enthusiasm is all of a sudden at an all-time high.

And it starts (and ends) with number eight.

“It’s incredible,” said Ravens fan Jonathan Greene. “Most excited for a Ravens team, and I’ve been a fan for years. It’s awesome. He has elevated this team.”

The words fans use to describe Jackson’s game are all similar. Phenomenal. Awesome. Incredible. Spectacular. Magic.

Jackson’s stats this season speak for themselves: 2,036 passing yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions. A 65.9 completion percentage. 702 rushing yards -- 11th-most in the NFL -- and six touchdowns. And of course, a 7-2 record.

Even those who would discount Jackson’s performance as beating up on weak competition are forced to recognize his brilliance. Against the winless Bengals, for example, Next Gen Stats estimated an average quarterback should have a completion percentage of 57.7%, based on how covered his receivers were, how much pressure he was under, and more. 

His actual percentage? 88.2%, or 30.5% higher than what was expected. It was the best difference for *any* quarterback in *any* game in 2019.

Fans are excited for the future as well. Not just for the Ravens but for young football fans across the city.

“He’s only 22 years old,” another fan, John Ford, said. “I think he appeals to the younger generation coming up through the high school and college ranks, because they can relate to him...I think he’s a role model for a lot of young kids coming up. And you watch him on the sidelines, he does some great things, but he takes it in stride. So he’s not celebrating too much, he knows what he’s got to do. That’s a unique thing for a young man, only 22 years old, at this level.”

The near future looks more daunting than in the long term. The Ravens enter Week 11 on a five-game winning streak, hoping to win six straight for the first time since 2000. 

They are beginning a tough slate of four straight against playoff contenders, but with Jackson leading an unstoppable offense, three or four wins doesn’t seem far-fetched. Regardless of what happens, Jackson has emphatically won over the city of Baltimore and the NFL writ large.

One longtime Ravens fan, Stan Nasiatka, put it best when asked about Jackson.

“That’s all we’re talking about," he said. "It’s everywhere.”

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL. That much hasn’t changed.

Now that we’re on the same page, it’s time to admit something. He hasn’t looked totally himself as of late. While most of his kicks have still found their way between the uprights, many have looked closer than they should.

That trend culminated with his first miss Sunday against the Texans. Tucker’s attempt on the Ravens’ first drive of the game -- from 43 yards out -- bounced off the right upright.

The miss snapped a streak of 22 consecutive made field goals for Tucker, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. He is the only kicker in NFL history to convert more than 90% of his field goal attempts.

It’s too soon to be concerned about Tucker going forward. For now, just pick your jaws up off the floor and go back to feeling confident in the Ravens’ most consistent player the next time he jogs out onto the field.

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