Jaime Garcia has been cleared to return, so the Cardinals are shifting Joe Kelly to the ‘pen

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Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly has posted a solid 3.41 ERA this season over the first 12 starts of his major league career, serving as a fantastic fill-in for injured lefty Jaime Garcia. But Garcia just wrapped up a rehab assignment Tuesday night at Triple-A Memphis, so Kelly’s run in the rotation is over.

According to FOX Sports Midwest, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced to the media a few hours before first pitch Wednesday against the Diamondbacks that Kelly will be moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the 2012 season.

Garcia — out since early June with a strained shoulder — is set to return Sunday to face the Pirates.

Kelly has never been considered an elite prospect, but the 24-year-old certainly displayed some positives in his 68 2/3 innings in the St. Louis rotation and has a chance to play a big role in long relief down the stretch.

The Cardinals enter play Wednesday night with a 63-53 record, ranking third in the National League Central.

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.