Kendrys Morales goes 2-for-3 in Cactus League debut

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Kendrys Morales played in a major league game Thursday for the first time since fracturing his left ankle while celebrating a 10th-inning walkoff home run against the Mariners on May 29, 2010. And it went about as well as such a thing can go.

Morales punched a single through the right side of the infield in his first at-bat, popped out to first base in his second at-bat, then laced a single to center field in his third at-bat. The Angels won 7-4 over the Royals, improving to 10-8 in Cactus League play (not that anyone should care).

Morales will be in the Angels’ starting lineup again on Friday afternoon and should be allowed to make regular appearances in Cactus League games until the opening of the 2012 regular season.

If he’s able to avoid setbacks, the 28-year-old Cuban slugger will start at designated hitter this year for Anaheim. He earned MVP votes in 2009 after batting .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.

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.