Lambo no longer in limbo with Pirates
Andrew Lambo had been in Pittsburgh for just a few hours when he was called on to pinch hit in one of the biggest spots of Friday's series opener against the Reds: Bottom of the eighth and the Pirates down a run with a sold-out crowd anxious for something to cheer about.
It was anything but similar to his Thursday night spent designated hitting in Indianapolis, but he said he treated it like nothing had changed. Lambo looked for a pitch he could get his barrel on and legged out an infield single for his first hit of the season.
The best part for Lambo? After 18 games with the Pirates late last season, he said critical moments like these are starting to feel “normal.”
“Last year was kind of like the intro of playing in front of 30,000 or 40,000,” said Lambo, who hit safely in his first four games. “I've been playing with a lot of guys on this team for a while. So it's pretty comfortable. It's about having the right plan and having the right approach.”
When asked about the 6-foot-3, 225-pound call-up, manager Clint Hurdle said he's looking for Lambo to display gap power and “change the game with one swing” when put in those high-pressure situations.
Friday and Saturday — his first two games with the Pirates this season, the latter a start in right field —were a good start. Lambo's hit Friday sparked a two-run eighth inning that gave the Pirates the lead.
The next day, a first-inning single to left led to a Neil Walker three-run blast for the Pirates' only run production in a 3-2 victory.
Sunday offered few heroics—Lambo's lone hit, a bloop double in the third inning, proved inconsequential — but it won't necessarily be his job to carry the offense through emotional stretches, nor would it be any young player's responsibility, Hurdle said.
“We're not going to ask him to do anything he hasn't done in the minor leagues,” Hurdle said.
In 61 games with Indianapolis, Lambo worked to redeem himself from a trying spring training in which he lost out on the Pirates' Opening Day first base job. At Indy, he batted .328 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs.
With Travis Snider returning from a hamstring injury, Lambo's time in right field isn't permanent, but Hurdle said September should provide him a few more opportunities to prove himself.
“It's a player who has worked through some challenges at times but has come now to be here ‘til the end (of the season), and we're going to try to find the proper places to plug him in to give him a chance to grow more than he had an opportunity to grow last year,” Hurdle said.
The success stories of players transitioning from a spot role to four at-bats a day are few, but they can be found in the Pirates' clubhouse — specifically, a few lockers to Lambo's left in Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison.
Harrison is the extreme, a player who progressed from pinballing between Indianapolis and the Pirates in 2013 to what Lambo called “the MVP in my eyes” in just a year. But he handled his adversity well, something Lambo now looks to do to find regularity in the big leagues.
“It takes a strong individual to do that,” Lambo said of Harrison. “It's not only physically draining when you gotta go through something like that, to be told that you're wanted and then to be told you have to go down for a roster situation. You either take it as a positive or you go a negative route and let it defeat you. I look at adversity as overcoming it and moving on.”
September's a big month for Lambo, but he's trying to enjoy every moment he can, including batting in the No. 2 slot, ahead of Andrew McCutchen, to close out the Reds series.
“It's hitting in front of an MVP, so I know I'm going to be getting some good pitches to hit. I know they're not going to want to pitch around me to get to him,” Lambo said, smiling. “So I'll be getting some good pitches early.”
Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.