The Boston Red Sox added one of the Pirates’ middle-of-the-order hitters for the second time in as many seasons, acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche on today for two midlevel prospects.

The trade, possibly the first of several involving the last-place Pirates before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers, follows up last July’s three-team deal that sent All-Star outfielder Jason Bay to Boston.

The Pirates, who have traded five starting position players since last July, will receive Double-A shortstop Argenis Diaz and Class-A right-hander Hunter Strickland, an 18th-round draft pick two years ago.

The Red Sox lost their fourth consecutive game Tuesday night to fall out of first place in the AL East, a game behind the New York Yankees. Boston had been one of the teams pursuing Toronto starter Roy Halladay, but a bat turned into the bigger priority for a team that is hitting .236 since June 17 and has scored 12 runs in five games since the All-Star break.

The trade was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on its Web site.

LaRoche, eligible for free agency after this season, has been a disappointment to the Pirates, hitting .247 with 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 81 strikeouts in 87 games. He has been slumping since July 4, going 5 for 46 (.109) with one RBI and 16 strikeouts. LaRoche was hitless in 22 at-bats during the slide.

The 29-year-old LaRoche was expected to supply a much-needed left-handed power bat when the Pirates dealt left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta for him in January 2007, but he hasn’t hit better than .272 in two-plus seasons and had poor starts in 2007 and 2008.

LaRoche hit 32 homers for Atlanta in 2006, but his best season with Pittsburgh was 25 homers and 85 RBIs a year ago.

Last year’s trade couldn’t have worked out much better for the Red Sox, as Bay went into Wednesday’s games with 72 RBIs, the third most in the AL. The Pirates, by contrast, have gotten little out of the July 31, 2008, deal that was highlighted by Manny Ramirez going from the Red Sox to the Dodgers.

That trade included LaRoche’s younger brother, third baseman Andy LaRoche, who has four homers and 36 RBIs this season as an everyday player in Pittsburgh.

With the Pirates edging toward a major league-record 17th consecutive losing season, they may deal shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, although contract issues appear to be impeding their chances of getting quality players in return.

Adam LaRoche signed a $7.05 million contract this season to avoid arbitration, but the Pirates haven’t made any serious move to re-sign him.

Diaz, a 22-year-old known for his outstanding defense, is hitting .253 with no homers and 24 RBIs in 76 games during his sixth pro season, at Portland.

Strickland, 20, is 5-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 18 games, including 12 starts, at Greenville of the South Atlantic League. He has only 13 walks in 83 1-3 innings.


AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.

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