Slugging outfielder Lambo part of Pirates' first base equation
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 10:06 p.m.
BRADENTON, Fla. — During batting practice Monday, the first day of voluntary winter workouts at Pirate City, Andrew Lambo swung a piece of lumber that once belonged to Garrett Jones.
The leftover bat might not be the only thing Lambo inherits from Jones.
Last month, after spending five seasons with the Pirates, Jones signed a free-agent deal with the Miami Marlins. That opened at least a part-time job at first base for a left-handed hitter who can platoon with Gaby Sanchez.
The Pirates pursued free-agent James Loney, but he wound up re-signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. They eyed Ike Davis, Logan Morrison and Mitch Moreland in separate trade talks, but were unable to close a deal.
There aren't many good external options left. With spring training scheduled to begin in 37 days, the Pirates are looking inward for at least a temporary solution.
“We have a game plan in place,” manager Clint Hurdle said in early December during MLB's Winter Meetings. “We've talked to our guys about what we believe Sanchez can do to help us there and what Lambo can do if it works out that he gets time there.”
Last year, Lambo played in a total of 19 games at first base for Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona. From 2007-2010, in the lower levels of the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system, Lambo played in 23 games at first.
To get a crash course at first base, Lambo spent the past couple of months playing winter ball in Venezuela. Lambo played for Cardenales de Lara, along with fellow Pirates Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, Matt Hague, Gregory Polanco and Gift Ngoepe.
In 27 games for Cardenales de Lara, Lambo batted .228 with a .648 on-base plus slugging percentage. He hit six doubles and two triples. But, after whacking 32 home runs in the minors and one in a brief stint with the Pirates last season, Lambo did not go deep in winter ball.
No big deal. Lambo was in Venezuela to work on his defense.
“I started off a little slow and finished strong,” Lambo said Monday. “I got in a lot of work at first base. There was a coach there who hit me 100 ground balls at first base every single day. I can't believe he had the energy to do it, but he did — every day.”
For the first few games after he arrived in Venezuela, Lambo started games in right field. But over his final couple of weeks there, he was getting a lot of playing time at first base.
“It's all about getting up to game speed, and that's what I wanted to do in Venezuela,” Lambo said. “It's a little quicker (at first base) than the outfield. The ball's coming at you quick. Getting the hang of that was the biggest adjustment. I had to put in the work. I wanted to get better at it, so I was out there every day.”
It was the first time Lambo had played winter ball in Venezuela. He said he was too busy adjusting to the culture and fine-tuning his first base skills to worry about what moves the Pirates were trying to make in the free-agent and trade markets.
“I don't ever pay much attention to all that,” Lambo said. “My job is to go out there and play. When someone tells me what to do, I do it.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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