Future takes sharp turn for Lambo at first base for Pirates

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Andrew Lambo wasn't jumping for joy when he heard the Pirates had acquired first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets on April 18, and with good reason.

First base was supposed to be the position he was being groomed to take over.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't understand the business or that he is sulking or feeling sorry for himself. It is just another reminder of how much harder he must work if he wants to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time major leaguer.

"Of course it is frustrating when you feel like you are going to be the guy and they bring in someone else, but that's part of it and it is part of being a competitor that you want to be there," Lambo said. "But I don't put the blame on anyone else. It is on me, I had an opportunity and didn't have the kind of spring I needed to have or wanted to have. I didn't get it done. I'm disappointed, but you have to move on, so I'm here now [with the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians], and I'm working hard every day to be ready for my next opportunity.

"The good thing about this organization is they have shown they will use a lot of players, they will give a lot of guys opportunities, so I know I'll get more opportunities down the road."

Lambo, who is hitting .310 with 10 RBIs in 17 games, was supposed to be in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base this season and was given an opportunity to win the job in spring training.

But Lambo, 25, didn't have a good spring. He had just four hits in 42 at-bats, none for extra bases, and was sent to Class AAA out of spring training. The Pirates brought journeyman Travis Ishikawa north with them instead.

The hope was that Lambo, who hit 18 home runs in 254 Class AAA plate appearances last year, would work on his swing and his plate approach and join the Pirates at some point to strengthen the first base position.

But that plan has changed some now that Davis is in the mix. Ishikawa was designated for assignment April 19 after Davis arrived, so the number of first basemen ahead of Lambo remains the same.

Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said the plan has been to get Lambo some work in the outfield as well as first base in order to get him experience at different positions and give him more opportunities to make it to the majors.

"Andrew is swinging the bat a lot better," Treanor said. "He is getting back to where he needs to get back to. They wanted him to make the major league club out of spring and he didn't perform well and he knows that was tough on him. But his attitude has been that he is in the right place to work some things out and get some things better. He knows that he has to get that bat better, that is what held him back.

"And we are still having him work at first, but with us trading for Davis, that aspect of his game isn't as essential, so we have him in the outfield some more. ... We're just trying to keep getting him experience. He has a lot of work to do, but he understands that -- this whole thing isn't easy, it takes a commitment and he has made that."

Lambo's work in the outfield might help him get back to the majors, but it is more likely if the Pirates call up an outfielder it will be Lambo's teammate Gregory Polanco, who is considered one of the top prospects in baseball.

But Lambo's versatility, combined with his ability to hit with power, will likely keep him at or near the top of the list of players the Pirates will call up when they need a position player or an extra bat.

"I feel like I've gained a lot of ground at first base," he said. "But you have to keep working hard -- the game can chew you up, it can beat you up, but you have to keep improving and believing in yourself and know that you can play it. And being able to play first now as well as the outfield, it is great for the resume. It gives me a lot of options in terms of where I can fit in on a major league club.

"At the end of the day I can only control what I can control and that is just improving my game, getting better and getting prepared so that when I do get another opportunity I take advantage of it. ... I'm having fun. This is an exciting time."

Lambo said he has worked to become a more complete hitter and not just a guy who hits home runs. He said he has worked to learn how to use the entire field and drive the ball the opposite way.

Treanor said Lambo's attitude has been refreshing because some players have a hard time handling it when they are sent back to Class AAA after they expected to be with the major league team.

He said he believes Lambo will have another opportunity, probably this year, and that if he continues to work on his game, particularly his bat, he will have a good chance to be more successful than he was in the spring.

"He's doing a lot of good things," Treanor said. "He is driving the ball the other way, he is hitting it into the gaps to all fields. These are all things we are looking for, but he just has to continue to work and develop consistency. And if he does that, he will be in those conversations [about a player who gets called up]. But that's what [Class AAA ball] is all about."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter: @paulzeise.

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