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Pirates trade for Mets first baseman Davis

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 7:09 p.m.
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The Angels' Collin Cowgill is safe at first base in the first inning against the Mets' Ike Davis on Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif.

After a six-month search filled with twists, near-misses and dead ends, the Pirates found a first baseman.

The Pirates on Friday acquired Ike Davis from the New York Mets for minor league pitcher Zack Thornton and a player to be named.

“Hopefully this is a move that solves our first-base needs for years to come,” general manager Neal Huntington said.

A left-handed batter, Davis, 27, is hitting .208 with one home run and five RBIs in 12 games this season. The former 2008 first-round pick (18th overall) was arbitration-eligible for the first time this year and will make $3.5 million.

“I'm going to miss my guys and New York. It's the only thing I've known,” Davis told reporters before leaving Citi Field. “Maybe different scenery is better. I'm excited to see what I can do with a lot of playing time.”

Against righty pitchers, Davis hits .256 with a .828 on-base plus slugging percentage. He figures to get the bulk of the playing time, sharing first base with right-handed hitter Gaby Sanchez.

“The word ‘platoon' gets thrown around a lot,” Huntington said. “I think this will be where (manager) Clint (Hurdle) will use his judgment. I think this will allow Clint to use his bench a little more as a bench instead of a platoon bench as he's had to do to this point.”

Sanchez didn't play much in the first week of the season and is batting .226 with three homers and five RBIs.

“Ike's a good player,” Sanchez said. “I think he'll fit in here. I know he'll have same mind set as rest of us, which is doing whatever it takes to help the team win.”

A left-handed batter, Davis ranked fifth in the National League with 32 homers in 2012. He fell out of favor in New York last year when his average remained anemic, his power waned and he missed the final five weeks due to a strained right oblique.

“New York's a tough place to play,” Davis said. “If you don't do well, they don't like it. I've never really let that stuff get to me. Not playing well, that's what I don't like. But hopefully that's behind me. I feel a lot better in the box this year.”

The Pirates needed a first baseman after cutting Garrett Jones in the offseason. They tried to sign free agent James Loney, but he wound up back with the Tampa Bay Rays. A spring training scheme to move outfielder Andrew Lambo to first base flopped when he batted .095 and was sent back to the minors.

The Pirates and Mets discussed a deal for Davis over the winter. Talks broke off when Davis went down with a right calf injury during spring training.

When Lucas Duda took over earlier this month as the everyday first baseman, Davis became expendable and it's likely the Mets' asking price dropped.

“One of us had to go,” Davis said. “It looked like it was going to be for almost eight months now.”

Davis has three days to report to the Pirates, and Huntington said he was unsure whether Davis will be in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Travis Ishikawa likely will be sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the active roster when Davis reports.

Lambo was playing at first base regularly for Indianapolis, but Huntington said Lambo might now get more time in the outfield.

“We still think Andrew Lambo is going to be a very good big league player,” Huntington said. “It's just that right now we think Ike Davis is a better fit for us. We'll see how it plays out over the course of the season.”

The Pirates believe Davis showed signs in July and August last year after he was recalled from the minors and that he can get back on track offensively.

In 48 games over those two months, Davis hit .267 with 11 doubles, four homers and an .872 OPS.

“He had a walk rate of almost 20 percent, the strikeouts were down, the hard contact was up,” Huntington said. “And, again, left-handed hitters are probably a better fit in our ballpark than (at Citi Field) in New York.”

Thornton, 26, was a nonroster invitee to Pirates spring training camp this year. The right-hander was acquired from the Oakland A's in November 2012 in exchange for reliever Chris Resop.

This year, Thornton was 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four relief outings for Triple-A Indianapolis.

“Zach is somebody we considered taking in the Rule 5 draft (in December),” Mets GM Sandy Alderson said. “We're happy to have 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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