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Lambo optioned; Ishikawa makes case to stick with Pirates

| Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 7:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates designated hitter Travis Ishikawa high-fives Andrew Lambo at the plate after hitting a two-run homer against the Twins on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Travis Ishikawa drives in a run against the Phillies on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Andrew Lambo pops out against the Phillies on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates designated hitter Travis Ishikawa rounds the bases past third base coack Nick Leyva after homering against the Twins Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Travis Ishikawa did not make a good first impression with the Pirates.

Ishikawa, who's in spring training camp on a minor league contract, tweaked his hamstring on the first play of the intrasquad scrimmage Feb. 25. The injury kept him out of action for nearly two weeks.

“Catching it early and not being stupid and trying to play through it was important,” Ishikawa said. “It was just a matter of trying to stay positive and staying focused on the goal.”

While Ishikawa sat, Andrew Lambo had a chance to take charge in the competition for the backup first base job. Lambo blew that chance.

Lambo had two hits in the first Grapefruit League game, then did not get another until nine games later. When Ishikawa finally was ready to play, he homered three times in a seven-game span.

Lambo was optioned on Tuesday to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he will begin the season as the everyday first baseman.

Barring a trade or free agent acquisition in the next few days, Ishikawa will be with the Pirates on Opening Day.

The deadline to finalize the 25-man active roster is 3 p.m. Sunday. The Pirates first would have to make a move to get Ishikawa on the 40-man roster.

“If that's where we end up, we'll be comfortable with that,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Travis had a nice spring. He gives you a professional at-bat and handles himself well around the base.”

Ishikawa, 30, has played six seasons in the majors but only twice has appeared in more than 95 games. He's a career .260 hitter with 19 home runs.

The Pirates brought Ishikawa to camp thinking he also could provide depth in the outfield. But after he hurt his hamstring in right field during the scrimmage, Ishikawa has been used exclusively at first base in games.

“I've been chasing fly balls in right field in batting practice, and it's felt good,” Ishikawa said. “If they need me there, I'll be ready for it.”

Ishikawa bats left-handed. Gaby Sanchez, a right-handed hitter, is expected to be the de facto starter at first base.

Lambo, 25, caught management's attention by clubbing 32 homers in the minors last season and was given every chance to win a roster spot this spring. But Lambo batted .095 with a .269 on-base plus slugging percentage, and none of his four hits went for extra bases.

“The results weren't there,” Huntington said. “He faced a lot of fastball-count offspeed pitches.”

A natural outfielder, Lambo made strides picking up the nuances of playing first base. But it required a lot of extra time spent in fielding drills, and Huntington said the pressure might have been overwhelming.

“We asked him to tackle a new position and compete to make a major league team at the same time,” Huntington said. “We threw a lot at him. Sometimes guys try to do too much. It seems that certainly was the case with Andrew this spring. We still believe in him.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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