Lambert is enjoying his first season in a starting role after being strictly a relief pitcher throughout his first two seasons in the Cubs minor league system and his collegiate career at the University of Virginia.
"Starting was never really something I envisioned doing," Lambert says. "I know with my size (5-11, 180), I'm not a typical starter in terms of my height. I've always said whatever they needed me to go do I would go do. Whatever will get me to the next level."
Lambert was first approached about moving to a starting role during spring training by Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins after Riggins saw Lambert pitch only two innings.
"The next morning, he came up to me and asked me if I had ever started before. He said he liked what he had seen with the way that I was able to mix three different pitches and throw them for strikes," Lambert said.
It was then that the decision was made to stretch Lambert out and prepare him to join the Double-A starting rotation with the fail-safe plan of moving him back to the bullpen had the move not worked out.
Fortunately for Lambert, Riggins, and the Cubs' organization, the move has proven to be successful so far. Through eight starts with the Smokies, Lambert has a 2.32 ERA, the lowest among starters on the team.
Lambert was never uncomfortable in the high pressure situations that bullpen pitchers face. In fact, he was just as comfortable coming out of the bullpen as he is in his starting role, but pitching from the start of games has allowed him to be more relaxed on the mound, he said.
"I think it's a lot more relaxing going out there at the start than coming in during the seventh or eighth inning with men on base and having to get a strikeout. It's a lot easier to ease yourself into a ball game," Lambert says.
"I'm definitely comfortable here but if I were to go back to the bullpen, I'd be just as comfortable doing that."
Lambert also hasn't had any trouble understanding the mental strategies of starting compared to those of relief pitching. He has changed his approach to fit around the game and the situation, especially early in counts.
"I'm a little bit more focused on getting strike one over the plate and if at all possible getting a ground ball or weak fly ball with the second pitch. I'm more focused on keeping my pitch count down and being able to pitch as deep into ball games as possible," Lambert said.
One of the most intriguing things about Lambert's success is that he lacks overpowering stuff. Lambert has only recorded 15 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched this season.
One of the contributing factors has been his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, walking only 11 batters this season.
Known primarily as a curveball specialist before the season, Lambert attributes his success this year to the development of his other pitches.
"I think my changeup has been the biggest improvement I've had since I was drafted," Lambert says. "I'm able to throw it in any count, whether it's the first pitch of an at-bat, or if I fall behind 2-0 with a couple fastballs, I can throw my changeup and get somebody out in front of it."
"I'm able to get inside on hitters a lot more right now than I have in the past. I don't have overpowering stuff, but keeping the hitter off-balance makes my fastball seem a lot faster," Lambert said.
Lambert stays humble about the success he's having in his new role and says he doesn't get tangled up with his prospect status. He keeps his focus on his role between the white lines.
"Whatever role they put me in, I'm just trying to show the Cubs I can get hitters out and if people don't think I'm a prospect, I don't really care. I'm just trying to go out there and get people out and let my numbers speak for themselves," Lambert said.
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