After a rough spring training that caused him to lose the first base battle handily to Travis Ishikawa, and an 0-for-8 start to the Triple-A season at the plate, Andrew Lambo set off some warning alarms within the organization. However, Lambo has rebounded well from the slump, by going 8-for-16 in his five previous games through Friday.
As for the cold onset to the campaign, Lambo blamed some of it on the success that he had last year — where he smacked 33 home runs between Altoona, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. The power numbers that he was able to produce last year created the mindset that he should hit home runs on every trip to the plate.
“As a hitter, if you have a good year, as far as my standpoint, you kind of expect that it will always be there,” Lambo said. “You forget the work that you need to put in to create that year. I went out to Venezuela and didn’t really do a whole lot and created some bad habits that carried over into the Spring, unfortunately.”
Though Lambo knows that he is expected to drive in runs and produce extra-base hits, he also now realizes that the power numbers will come naturally with the pitches that he is thrown and the various situations.
“You can’t control if you hit home runs or not,” Lambo said. “All you can control is what your plan is and what your approach is. Am I a home run hitter? In my head, I don’t think so. Throughout my career, I have been a guy who puts the barrel on the ball.”
With this approach, Lambo sets goals to hit over .300, have over 40 doubles, and drive in over 100 runs each season. He said that home runs come and go and he lets the fans worry about them more than he does.
Not wanting to dwell on the slump, Lambo referred to himself as a “big fix it guy.” The main adjustment that Lambo has been working on with hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo is to let the ball get a little deeper in the zone before attacking.
“We kind of simplified it for him and focused on some of the things that he does well,” Pagliarulo said. “We are working on staying on the ball a little longer. It is really a commitment to that. He’s the kind of guys that is not afraid and is willing to commit to things, as long as they are connected to the right stuff. That’s what we are trying to get him focused on, so that it is just one thing at the plate.”
In addition, Lambo has put a focus on using all fields and driving the ball from foul pole to foul pole, which is a skill that Pagliarulo thinks will contribute heavily to Lambo’s future success.
“I did not really know him until last year when he came up here,” Pagliarulo said. “The way that he was able to hit the ball to all fields, was really effective. It was really difficult for pitchers to face him because he is dangerous to all fields. We are just getting disciplined on his contact point and using all fields.”
Another goal that Lambo is taking to the plate is quite simple – don’t beat yourself. Rather than trying to replicate his swing from last year, Lambo is looking to get back to the basics and start from square one. Lambo said that not having a plan or an approach at the plate was also to blame with his struggles.
Though Lambo admitted that he is not where he wants to be offensively just yet, he stated that getting back to the basics has him a lot closer to where he wants to be, and ultimately, Pittsburgh.
Success against lefties
Though a bugaboo for some left-handed hitters is facing situational left-handed pitchers late in the game, Lambo has thrived against lefties early in the season. Through Friday, Lambo was 5-for-8 against left-handed pitching with two doubles.
Lambo’s initial expectations at the Major League level is to be facing right-handed pitching as a platoon player. In 2013, his splits were .288/.353/.591 against righties. In addition, in 2013, Lambo handled lefties fairly well. He had an .810 OPS against left-handed pitching, compared to the .944 he posted against right-handed pitching.
If Lambo can continue this success against southpaws, his value in Pittsburgh is even stronger than it would otherwise be. Hitting lefties gives Lambo the opportunity to also beat out Gaby Sanchez and take over the everyday position, regardless of the match-up, rather than platooning.
Lambo is also looking to adjust to his defensive role with the organization from outfield to first base, as the road is blocked to years to come in the outfield.
While this is a change that Lambo is embracing, the first thing that he learned was the heavier workload that comes with playing the infield, as opposed to the outfield. This alone provided an adjustment for Lambo physically. However, he did not blame the position change on his early offensive struggles.
“I’m not going to blame me moving into the infield on why I didn’t hit,” he said. “Why I didn’t hit was for me and the reasons in the box. Me in the box had to iron some things out. Playing a new position is not why you don’t hit. I don’t believe in that.”
The agility with side to side movement and the focus within the game in the infield are two more aspects that Lambo acknowledged as adjustments. Though Lambo downplays the effect of the position change, Pagliarulo think that it may have had an impact on Lambo this spring.
“This spring, he was asked to play a new position and to do a lot of things,” Pagliarulo said. “I think that some people underestimate the difficulty of playing a new position, especially outfield to infield. We have a lot of things going on. I think that he is going to be fine and he is going to help later in the year in Pittsburgh.”
It is well-known and foreseen that Lambo’s chance to contribute for the Pirates is at first base, as Gregory Polanco has the route to the final outfield position locked down. With Ishikawa as the only obstacle in the way, Lambo will take the role if his offensive efficiency continues for another month or so, regardless of his defensive prowess in the infield. However, he is gaining necessary experience at Indianapolis that will prove valuable in the long run at the next level.