San Francisco — The Washington Nationals found a reliable pitcher for the ninth inning, acquiring All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday.
Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants struggling Jonathan Papelbon as Washington’s closer. Melancon is expected to join the Nationals on Sunday for their series finale at San Francisco.
A 31-year-old right-hander, Melancon has converted 30 of 33 saves with a 1.51 ERA this season and joins his fifth organization in eight years. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.
Once considered a possible successor to Mariano Rivera when he broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2009, Melancon said during the All-Star break he knew a trade was possible, given his contract status.
The move comes as the Pirates find themselves on the fringe of the wild-card race. While general manager Neal Huntington stressed the team remains committed to reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the opportunity to deal Melancon — who led the majors with 51 saves in 2015 and had 33 in 2014 — for two young arms with friendly long-term contracts was too good to pass up.
Rivera is under team control through 2021 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during an extended relief appearance against the Pirates this month. If Melancon left as a free agent, Pittsburgh would have received a high draft pick as conpensation.
“We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return, but at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us,” Huntington said.
This was the well-traveled Melancon’s fourth season in Pittsburgh after he also pitched for Houston, Boston and the Yankees.
He will move his family once more — his wife and three kids.
“That kind of is what makes things a lot bigger deal just because you’ve got five times the bodies,” he said during the All-Star break. “It’s not just me, it’s about four other people along with me.”
Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outings. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn’t say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.
Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals’ fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.
The Pirates will plug the 25-year-old Rivera into a seventh-inning role, with Neftali Feliz working the eighth and Tony Watson in the ninth. Watson was an All-Star in 2014 in a set-up role and will take over a position where Pittsburgh has enjoyed plenty of success during its rise from mediocrity. Each of its previous three closers — Melancon, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan — made the All-Star team wearing black-and-gold.
Huntington hinted the team might try to take the money it will save by not paying the remaining portion of Melancon’s contract and use it before Monday’s trade deadline. The Pirates need help in the starting rotation, which has been forced to turn to rookies Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow quickly as established players Jeff Locke, John Niese and Juan Nicasio faltered.
Also Saturday, Washington recalled right-handed pitcher Reynaldo Lopez from Triple-A Syracuse.
Braves deal for Kemp
The Braves acquired pricey slugger Matt Kemp and cash considerations from San Diego for troubled outfielder Hector Olivera.
The Braves have tried for several months to unload Olivera following his April 13 arrest on domestic violence charges.
Despite arthritis in both hips, Kemp could boost the weakest offense in the major leagues. Atlanta has baseball’s worst record and ranks last in runs scored and homers.
The Braves have just one marquee everyday player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and need more star appeal as they move a few miles north into a new suburban ballpark next year.
Kemp has a $21.5 million salary this year and is owed the same amount in each of the next three seasons.
Olivera has a $4 million salary this year and is owed $6 million next year, $6.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020.
Athletics, Royals make swap
Outfielder Billy Burns was traded from the Athletics to the Royals for outfield prospect Brett Eibner.
Oakland also placed left-hander Rich Hill on the 15-day disabled list with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, a move retroactive to July 20.
Burns, who has been playing at Triple-A Nashville, hit .234 with 12 RBIs in 73 games with Oakland this season. Eibner batted .231 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games for the Royals.
Hill is 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 14 starts and hasn’t pitched since July 17, when he threw only five pitches before leaving due to the blister.
Hill was scheduled to start Sunday but was scratched after experiencing discomfort during a throwing session Friday. Right-hander Sonny Gray will take Hill’s turn against Cleveland.
Mets’ Reyes on DL
The New York Mets put infielder Jose Reyes on the 15-day disabled list because of a strain in his left ribcage and signed free agent Justin Ruggiano.
Ruggiano was in the starting lineup in center field Saturday night against Colorado. He was released by Texas earlier this week.
Reyes hurt himself taking a swing during the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday. The third baseman has missed four straight games since the injury.
The 33-year-old Reyes was hitting .239 with three home runs, eight RBIs and three stolen bases in 16 games for the Mets. He signed a minor league contract last month after being cut by Colorado.
The 34-year-old Ruggiano started the season with Texas and was sent to Triple-A after one game. He was told Tuesday that he’d been released.
Ruggiano has hit .256 with 49 homers and 153 RBIs in parts of eight seasons with Texas, the Cubs, the Dodgers, Miami, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
The Mets transferred pitcher Matt Harvey to the 60-day DL.
Pence returns for Giants
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.
San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.
Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday’s 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.
Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.