Albert Pujols played third base yesterday for the first time since 2002

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David Freese and Nick Punto leaving yesterday afternoon’s game with injuries put the Cardinals in a tough spot and led to Albert Pujols playing third base for the first time since 2002.

He moved from first base to third base for the final 1.1 innings of a 6-5 loss to the Braves and handled his lone chance with ease, throwing out Chipper Jones on a ground ball.

Tony La Russa told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he approached Pujols and simply asked, “Are you ready to play third?”

However, while seeing Pujols back at the hot corner was interesting it doesn’t sound like it’ll be anything more than an emergency option even with Freese out for a month with a broken hand. In between Pujols’ previous appearance at third base in 2002 and his brief action there yesterday the Cardinals used a total of 29 different third basemen.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.