Phil Hughes diagnosed with back stiffness

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From Sweeny Murti of New York’s WFAN comes word that Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes departed in the fourth inning of his ALCS Game 3 start against the Tigers because of a stiff back.

Hughes cruised through the first three innings before yielding a solo home run to Delmon Young and a walk to Andy Dirks. He motioned for a trainer two pitches into the next at-bat against Jhonny Peralta and departed the field after a short conversation with the Yankees’ head trainer and manager Joe Girardi.

Hughes held the Orioles to one earned run over 6 2/3 innings during his lone outing in the ALDS. He threw a career-high 191 1/3 innings during the 2012 regular season. It’s a cold night at Comerica Park.

The Tigers currently lead this ALCS Game 3 by a score of 2-0. Justin Verlander is throwing a gem.

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.