Lambo comes up empty at the plate in Pirates debut

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ST. LOUIS -- Andrew Lambo strode to the batters box at 8:41 p.m. Tuesday, chewing hard on a wad of gum, before he grounded out on a dribbler to first base on the third pitch he saw.

By the end of the night, he went 0 for 3 with a couple of groundouts to first and a strikeout before being replaced in the seventh.

Not exactly the stuff of legend, but it was a long-awaited major league debut for Lambo after 2,451 at-bats in seven minor league seasons.

Lambo, who was inserted into the starting lineup after Jose Tabata was scratched with flu-like symptoms, powered his way through Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis this season, hitting 31 homers with a .350 on-base percentage.

The chatter for his bat -- he hits left-handed -- got louder by the day as the Pirates continued to look for an everyday right fielder.

"He was absolutely destroying the ball in Indy. It was crazy. It was a video game," said catcher Tony Sanchez, who spent parts of three seasons playing with Lambo in the minor leagues.

Lambo, who replaced Alex Presley on the active roster, said his manager in Indianapolis told him he would not be joining the team for a function on their day off Monday.

"He said because you're going to go to St. Louis," Lambo said as his face lit up. "I didn't know what he was talking about. He said, 'You're going to St. Louis to play with the big club.' It was pretty cool."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it was time for his promotion for a number of reasons.

"To get a read on him at this level," said Hurdle. "To make sure that we're not going to overlook an in-house opportunity that we have. The question will always be, are they ready? For me, there's only one way to find out if they're ready.

"If they've done the work, put forth the effort, accomplished some things ... it's time."

Lambo, along with James McDonald, was acquired by the Pirates in a 2010 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for Octavio Dotel. Shortly before that, he served a 50-game suspension by Major League Baseball for testing positive for a drug of abuse as opposed to performance-enhancing drugs.

His career started with promise. The Dodgers selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft and he had two good seasons before he plateaued at Class AA in 2009 and 2010. He reached Class AAA in 2011, but hit just .184 in 60 games before injuries limited him to 35 games in 2012.

Lambo said he was forced to take a long look in the mirror several times along the way.

"This time is not going to last too long. If you don't take advantage of it, it's going to pass you by," Lambo said. "You've got to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're really giving 110 percent to your game, your career. I think I needed some self reflection. I did. I went the other way and here we are."

Sanchez -- who suspects the two played about 150 or more games together -- said Lambo has transformed as a person the past several seasons.

"He's a completely different person from what he was in 2011. Way more mature," Sanchez said. "The Lambo from 2011 who just came from the Dodgers? That was a different guy. Now he's on that straight and narrow path to success. He can sense it. He knows how good he can be and he wants to strive for that. He's doing what he needs to do to get that done.

"You don't put those kind of numbers up without having a straight mind. He's proved a lot of people wrong this year and I'm happy for him."

Lambo's road had to have had some dark moments, Sanchez said.

"I went through my struggles and questioned whether baseball was going to work for me," he said. "I'm sure somewhere in a deep dark corner of his thought process, he thought, 'Well, this is my fourth year in Double A, what am I doing?'

"I've had those thoughts. You power through it. You fake it until you make it. Put on a smile, show up every day."

Hurdle said Lambo's resilience is admirable: "He deserves a lot of credit for resetting himself, rebalancing things, and now reigniting his professional career the way he did through Double A and Triple A seasons this year."

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Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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