Pirates trade Grilli to Angels for reliever Frieri

| Friday, June 27, 2014, 6:36 p.m.

The Pirates and the Los Angeles Angels swapped struggling former closers Friday as the Pirates sent Jason Grilli to the West Coast in exchange for right-handed reliever Ernesto Frieri.

The move came one week after Mark Melancon replaced Grilli as the Pirates' closer. On June 19, Grilli suffered his fourth blown save of the season in a 4-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Two days earlier, Grilli took the loss against the Reds to fall to 0-2.

Melancon will continue to close games, general manager Neal Huntington said. Frieri will start as a high-leverage option for the middle innings.

“It's one of those change-of-scenery deals where both clubs are looking at guys they've liked in the past who are currently struggling and felt like it was the right move,” Huntington said.

Grilli could not be reached for comment.

Grilli, 37, was on the verge of his first All-Star appointment at this time last year. His first blown save didn't come until June 19, and he set a club record for most saves before the All-Star break when he recorded his 27th on June 29. He finished with 33 saves and blew just two in his first season as a full-time closer.

He wasn't the same this season, however. He was 0-1 with three blown saves in seven chances when he went on the disabled list with an oblique strain in late April. He continued to struggle after his return and heads to the Angels with 11 saves and a 4.87 ERA.

“The oblique strain kind of threw him off track, and he got away from being as aggressive as he was before the injury,” Huntington said. “When he's been so successful here, he pitched as if he had nothing to lose. He just wasn't quite as sharp.”

Frieri's struggles this season have been even more dramatic. He blew two of his first four save opportunities and had an ERA of 9.35 in 8 23 innings when Joe Smith replaced him as the Angels' closer in late April. Frieri regained the job but lost it again. He is 0-3 with a 6.39 ERA.

Frieri, 28, was 4-2 with 23 saves in 2012, when the Angels traded for him at midseason and made him their full-time closer. He was 2-4 with 37 saves last season.

Huntington said the Pirates previously had interest in Frieri.

“He's a guy who's had success as a closer at the big league level, that has quality stuff, that has a good strikeout rate,” Huntington said. “He's not the groundball guy that we typically look to acquire but good soft contact. There are indicators that he can continue to do that.”

Grilli becomes a free agent after the season. Huntington said he wasn't shopping him, but the deal came about quickly.

Frieri was eligible for arbitration for the first time this year and is making $3.8 million. He won't be a free agent until after the 2016 season.

Huntington said Grilli was shaken up and “really surprised” to learn he was traded.

So were his teammates.

“He and I were really tight, and we still will be,” Melancon said. “We spent a lot of hours together, and he's taught me a lot. I really respect him. He's a guy that made me laugh every day, and I just really enjoyed being around him on a daily basis. It'll be good for him (in Anaheim), too, but for right now it's just hard to see him go.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said Grilli left an imprint on the organization.

“Every time a new opportunity has come, he's been able to find another gear,” Hurdle said. “We're very thankful for everything he brought.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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