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Frustrated Pirates prospect Lambo striving to get back to majors

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 9:36 p.m.
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 first baseman Andrew Lambo waits to bat against the Twins Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew Lambo has watched from afar while the Pirates moved on without him.

Lambo was rediscovering his batting stroke with Triple-A Indianapolis in April when the Pirates traded for first baseman Ike Davis. When right fielder Gregory Polanco was called up earlier this month, Lambo was recovering from thumb surgery in Florida.

During spring training, Lambo was given a chance to fill either of those positions in the majors. However, a .095 batting average got him sent back to minor league camp and spurred the Pirates to eventually swing the deal for Davis.

The odds against Lambo got worse in May, when he tore a ligament in his right thumb during a minor league game.

“Rehabs and recovery times are not the fun times in baseball,” Lambo said after a workout day last week. “You've got to dig deep and try to turn a negative into a positive. Everything right now is real negative. You're watching other people play every day, you're watching things happen, you're watching your team play and you want to help them out.”

Lambo had surgery May 28 and is rehabbing at Pirate City. He expects to be playing again for Indy by mid- to late-July.

“I want to finish the year in Pittsburgh,” Lambo said. “That's the goal.”

Unless either Davis, Polanco or left fielder Starling Marte is injured, there's nowhere for Lambo to play regularly. Yet, general manager Neal Huntington is not ready to write off Lambo.

“Whether it's this year or somewhere down the road, we still think he's a great fit,” Huntington said. “If you hit 30-something home runs, you can fit anywhere. Josh Harrison has shown when you play well, you play more. We still think Andrew's a good fit for us somewhere.”

At 25, Lambo is still young enough to gain some sort of a foothold in the big leagues.

Most of his playing time in the minors came at the corner outfield spots. This year, Lambo played nine games at first base, eight in the outfield and nine as Indy's designated hitter.

The Pirates tried to convert Lambo into a full-time first baseman during spring training. His defense was adequate, though ragged at times, but he fell apart at the plate. In 17 Grapefruit League games, Lambo managed only four hits, all singles.

“I couldn't get anything going,” Lambo said with a shrug. “By the time I did, it was too late. That's the way it goes. I went to Indy, worked hard and got some things ironed out, and took off. I did what I'm capable of doing.”

Lambo was playing left field the day he dove for a ball and tore up his thumb. At the time, He was batting .356 and didn't want to come out of the lineup, so he didn't say anything to the trainer.

A couple of days later, the swelling in his hand hadn't subsided, so Lambo finally sought help. X-rays showed no break. When his hand still felt odd two weeks later, Lambo finally had an MRI exam, which revealed the ligament damage.

A month later, Lambo is nearly back to full speed. He is taking 60 to 70 swings a day and is fielding fly balls and grounders.

“Andrew has worked hard on everything he can do without the right thumb,” Huntington said. “So he's not going to miss as much time as you'd expect for a guy coming back from surgery.”

The hardest part, Lambo said, is having to go through his workouts alone. He isn't able to do much with Jameson Taillon and Duke Welker, who are rehabbing after Tommy John surgery.

“Those guys are pitchers. I like being with position players,” Lambo said with a laugh. “I want to hit and take ground balls with somebody.”

In another couple of weeks, Lambo will be doing all that again at Indianapolis. And he believes he could be rewarded with at least a September call-up to join the Pirates.

“I don't know what they have in store for me,” Lambo said. “It's going to be interesting to see. We've had a lot of roster situations, lots of changes, and I'm excited. You've got to adapt, and I'm all for that.”

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

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