The Pirates traded former closer Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Ernesto Frieri on Friday.
Grilli, 37, was a crowd favorite and ranked as one of the best closers in baseball when he was named to the National League All-Star team in 2013. But he was demoted from his role last week after giving up home runs in back-to-back outings and blowing four saves this season.
Frieri, 28, who also lost his job as closer, is a fly-ball pitcher and has an upside the Pirates like along with several years of control left. His salary is $3.8 million and is arbitration eligible for the first time in 2015.
“It’s one of those change of scenery deals that both clubs are looking at guys they’ve liked in the past who are currently struggling,” said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. “The human part of it makes it really hard. At the same time Ernesto is a guy we’ve pursued for a couple of years, haven’t been able to get him.”
Frieri throws a rising fastball and a slider that has helped him amass 216 strikeouts with the Angels since being acquired May 3, 2012.
“He’s a guy that’s had success as a closer at the big league level, that has quality stuff, that has a good strikeout rate,” said Huntington. “We believe we can get him back on the right track.”
Frieri is 0-3 with 11 saves, a 6.39 ERA and 38 strikeouts this season with the Angels. He has pitched 31 innings and given up 22 earned runs and eight home runs.
Huntington said Mark Melancon will remain the team’s closer, and that Frieri is likely to pitch in non-closing situations for the time being.
“Ernesto will come in perhaps like the Joel Hanrahan situation a handful of years ago,” said Huntington. “Pitches in lower and mid-leverage situations for us, gets his feet back on the ground and earns his way back to the back end of the bullpen.”
Grilli has not been the Grilli of 2013 after returning from an oblique strain in late May. His batting average against was .275, and most recently gave up four hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday against Tampa Bay.
“The oblique strain kind of threw him off track,” said Huntington. “He got away from being as aggressive as he was before the injury. When he was successful here he pitched as if he had nothing to lose. He just wasn’t quite as sharp. A few mistakes got hit hard. A few things didn’t go his way.”
Grilli took the news pretty hard.
“He was shaken up. This is the hard part of the game. The human element is part of it,” said Huntington. “I think he was surprised, truly surprised that we moved him at this point in time.
“I think he was planning on working through his challenges here, as we were. Then this came together and we decided to make a move.”
Jenn Menendez firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez First Published June 27, 2014 12:00 AM