Bob Smizik: Pirates have black hole at first base


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It would be hard to believe that Neal Huntington isn’t frantically working the phone lines today in an attempt to make a trade for a left-handed hitting first baseman. If not, he’s guilty of dereliction of duty.

As matters stand, the Pirates' options at first base against right-handed pitching are Gaby Sanchez, a right-handed batter, and Travis Ishikawa, a left-handed batter.

Huntington had plenty of chances to see this coming. The job was Andrew Lambo’s to lose and he has been losing it since the first exhibition game. Lambo put himself in that place by hitting 32 minor-league home runs last year. Beyond that, though, his resume is spotty. The Pirates optioned him to the minors this morning and he took with him an .095 batting average — 4-for-42, all singles.

"Andrew exceeded expectations defensively," Huntington said. "Offensively, the results weren't there. He faced a lot of fastball-count offspeed pitches. In our mind, the right thing to do to get him back on track was to have him start the season in Indianapolis."

Ishikawa, 30, is a below-average player who was brought in as a non-roster invitee and apparently penciled in to fill the first base slot at Indianapolis..

This is his batting line in 684 MLB at-bats against right-handed pitching: .262/.329/.408 -- .732

This is Sanchez’ career line against right-handed pitching: .242/.313/.387 --.700.

Based on comments made by Huntington this spring, it looks like Sanchez will get most of the playing time, with Ishikawa getting the occasional start.

Sanchez had better numbers earlier in his career, and if he plays with some regularity, his performance should improve. But even in the best of times, his OPS vs. right-handed pitching was .742.

With Sanchez, who showed little power regardless of who was pitching last season, and Ishikawa the Pirates are lacking home run potential from a position which it’s usually mandatory. It leaves a large hole in the middle of their lineup.

New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who hit 32 home runs in 2012 but who has otherwise been mediocre, at best, is said to be available. In the offseason, the Mets were believed to be asking for too much in return.


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