Lance Berkman took a step toward September on Friday night, appearing in the first of five minor-league games over a seven-day period before returning for what he says will probably be the final weeks of his career.

Speaking hours before playing five innings at first base for the Memphis Redbirds, the six-time All-Star first baseman acknowledged that he is leaning toward retirement after concluding his second season with the Cardinals.

"I don't want to rule anything out. But if you asked me right now I'm leaning toward not playing next year," Berkman said. "I don't want to say for certain because I don't want to do like Brett Favre and say, 'I retired; I'm not retired; I'm retired; I'm not retired.' I don't want to make that call right now, but if you put a gun to my head and demand an answer today I would tell you I'm probably not going to play next year."

Berkman, 36, is on a rehab assignment to test a damaged right knee that required surgery in May before sustaining additional injury when hit by a Clayton Kershaw pitch following his return.

Berkman says his goal is to rejoin the club in Washington on Sept. 1 and provide tactical help to a group of players he considers one of the best clubhouses he's been part of in 13 major-league seasons.

"I'm here (on rehab) largely out of a sense of obligation to be available to help the team and to help the organization," said Berkman, who admits he briefly considered ending his season in recent weeks. "It's about the guys and the Cardinals organization. It's not a personal thing about me wanting to win another World Series. Obviously, that's everybody's goal. But I don't want it to be about me personally. It's about being part of this team."

Wearing No. 38 for the Cardinals' Class AAA affiliate, Berkman walked and grounded out twice in three plate appearances while playing five innings in the field.