Bob Smizik: Ishikawa gaining on Lambo

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A convergence of good and bad is meeting at the Pirates spring training camp and it could produce a profound surprise.

* The job of playing first base against right-handed pitching was Andrew Lambo’s to lose. And he’s losing it.

* Travis Ishikawa was at in camp as just another body, someone to fill out the Indianapolis roster. But he, not Lambo, is the guy who’s playing like he wants to be the Pirates' platoon option against right-handed pitching.

Lambo has four hits, all singles, in 42 at bats. After going 2-for-7 in his two previous starts and generating some optimism, he was hitless in four at bats Saturday. Spring-training performance might not be a barometer of regular-season performance, but it can be influential with borderline players in making the roster.

Ishikawa, who is not on the 40-man roster, has seven hits in 20 at bats. Three of those hits are home runs.

Ishikawa, 30, has 774 career MLB at bats and they do little to advance his cause. His career batting line is: .260/.324/.398 -- .721. Nor do his numbers against right-handed pitching jump out. They are, in 684 at bats: .262/.329/.408 -- .737.

In presenting his case for Gaby Sanchez to be the full-time first baseman, general manager Neal Huntington has referred to 2010 and 2011. In those seasons, Sanchez had a .742 OPS against right-handers, which is better than Ishikawa’s career number. But Sanchez’s career OPS vs RHP is .700.

It’s not hard to make the case that Sanchez and Ishikawa will be the first basemen, but not in a straight platoon, while Lambo returns to Indianapolis to regain his confidence.

It’s not like Lambo has a distinguished career to support his candidacy. He had a monster season in 2013, hitting a combined 32 home runs in Class AA and AAA. But that was the first season since 2008 in which Lambo hit more than 11 minor-league home runs.

Finding a spot on the 40-man roster for Ishikawa would not be hard. Right-handed pitcher Andy Oliver, 26, jumps out as a player who could be removed without shaking the foundations of the organization.

Since Ishikawa is hardly a good long-term answer -- and possibly not even a good short-term one -- Huntington is no doubt exploring trade options. The Mets Ike Davis is just regaining full health after missing most of spring training. But he has five hits, two home runs, in 15 at bats. He is available. The questions are: At what price? And do the Pirates believe he is the man? Davis has a $3.5 million contract for 2014.


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