Michael Morse does a bit of mime work

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Nationals slugger Michael Morse hit a grand slam in the top of the first inning Saturday against the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse. But the ball barely cleared the right field wall at Busch Stadium and was initially ruled a base hit, which caused some confusion on the basepaths. Thus, we get probably the best highlight since replay for home runs was instituted:

There’s nothing in the rule book that requires that sort of thing, but the umpires wanted to be sure that all of the bases were touched and that no one was lapped. And Morse was apparently asked to mimic a swing to start the runners. It seemed to draw laughter, then boos, from the sold-out crowd in St. Louis.

The Nats defeated the Cards in 10 innings by a score of 6-4 to earn their 96th win of the season.

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.