CINCINNATI - Joakim Soria had the definite deja vu vibes on Friday. Not only was the right-handed reliever on the move at the non-waiver Trade Deadline for the second straight year, but he also again moved out of his habitual closing role.
A year ago, he was dealt from the back end of Texas' bullpen into the middle of Detroit's. His setup role there lasted only into the first week of this season, when the Tigers lost Joe Nathan to elbow surgery. Soria stepped back into the ninth-inning fire to convert 23 of 26 save opportunities.
But he arrived in Pirates Nation on Friday to find Mark Melancon firmly entrenched as the team's near-flawless closer. So, though he had not yet officially gotten the word from manager Clint Hurdle, Soria sensed he was back in a supporting role. He was also back in a pennant race, so it was all good.
"If that's the case … the eighth and ninth innings are very similar, and the only thing that matters to me is helping this team win," said the soft-spoken 31-year-old native of Mexico. "I'll try to help them as much as I can, whatever they want me to do. They brought me here to help this team win the championship, and that's where my mind is at."
The eighth and the ninth might be similar but, in his Pittsburgh debut, Soria found the seventh more complicated. He entered Friday night to protect a 5-4 lead, and he found himself in a bases-loaded mess before escaping when he blindly stabbed at and caught Brayan Pena's line drive over his head.
"Like I said before, it's never easy," said Soria, who was working earlier than the eighth inning for only the 21st time in 416 career appearances.
Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington brought Soria here in return for highly rated shortstop prospect JaCoby Jones.
"We hated to give him up," Huntington said of Jones, "but you have to pay with quality if you want to get quality."
"This is a very good back-end-of-the-game pitcher," said Hurdle, who reaffirmed that Melancon is his closer but added having "complete confidence, if the opportunity comes, to use Soria to close."
Numerous times this season, Melancon has been called on to do something he never had before: Close on three consecutive days. As reflected by his overall 30 straight saves, he has handled the chore. Soria's presence will help him avoid such a load down the stretch.
In addition to having spent most of his career as a closer -- he has 201 saves -- Soria has spent all of it in the American League, with the Royals having been his original club.
"It's a different league, but the same baseball," he said. "Go out, have fun, and enjoy this time, with a team in the race."