Joakim Soria (Getty Images)
The Pirates made their second -- and bolder -- trade in less than 24 hours to bolster their bullpen Thursday night by acquiring Detroit closer Joakim Soria.
The Pirates sent touted Class AA Altoona shortstop JaCoby Jones to the Tigers after acquiring right-hander Joe Blanton from Kansas City in a cash transaction early Thursday morning.
The two moves should strengthen what had been a Pirates’ weakness beyond closer Mark Melancon and set-up men Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. It had become apparent in recent weeks that manager Clint Hurdle trusted just that trio among his seven-man bullpen.
Soria will move into the spot held by Hughes, who shifts to middle relief.
“We feel like we lengthened and deepened our bullpen with these acquisitions,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Considering what was available to us and the acquisition costs, we thought strengthening the bullpen made the most sense.”
Both Soria and Blanton can become free agents at the end of the season.
The Pirates lead the National League wild card standings are trying to catch the Cardinals in the NL Central.
Soria will give the Pirates another strong late-inning right-handed option to go with Hughes. With 201 saves in his eight-year career, Soria also has plenty of closing experience closing and provides insurance in event something would happen to Melancon.
The 31-year-old Soria was having a fine year with the Tigers, stepping in as the closer when Joe Nathan injured his elbow during the first week of the season. He converted 23 saves in 26 opportunities while posting a 2.85 ERA in 43 games and allowing 32 hits in 36 innings with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Soria has been scored on only once in his last 14 appearances, though it was an ugly appearance as he gave up four runs without retiring a batter July 10 at Minnesota while taking the loss and a blown save.
He hasn’t been dominant in that span, though, giving up 11 hits, walking seven and hitting two batters in 13 1/3 innings, though he had 16 strikeouts.
Blanton joined the Pirates on Thursday night for their game against the Reds at Cincinnati and takes a middle/long relief spot held by right-hander Vance Worley, who was designated for assignment.
Worley was rarely used in high-leverage situations despite compiling a 2.08 ERA in 11 games after being dropped from the starting rotation in mid-May. He allowed less than a baserunner an inning -- 19 hits and four walks in 26 innings -- with 20 strikeouts.
One of two rookie right-handers, Arquimedes Caminero or Deolis Guerra, figure to be designated for assignment to open a roster spot when Soria reports. Caminero has a 4.37 ERA in 46 games and Guerra’s ERA is 3.52 through nine games.
Blanton, 34, had a 2.74 ERA and two saves in 11 relief appearances for the Royals after being moved from the starting rotation. He struck out 23 in 22 relief innings while issuing just three walks.
This is the first time Blanton has been a full-time reliever since making his debut in 2004 with Oakland.
Blanton was 2-4 with a 6.04 ERA in 28 games, including 20 starts, with the Angels in 2013. The Angels released him in spring training last year and he signed with the Athletics then retired after making just two starts for their Class AAA Sacramento farm club.
Blanton wound up making a comeback with the American League Central-leading Royals and now finds himself with the Pirates.
“Usually it doesn't happen this way,” Blanton said told reporters in Cincinnati. “You go from out (of contention) to in, and sometimes you go from in to out, but I think that it's very fortunate for me to go from in contention to in contention.”