David Ortiz expected to return to the Red Sox on April 19

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David Ortiz continues to make steady recent progress in his recovery from heel inflammation.

According to beat writer Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, the veteran designated hitter is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday at Triple-A Pawtucket and is on track to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on April 19.

Ortiz has been playing in extended spring training games for the past few days in south Florida and should be cleared for major league action after making around 20-30 minor league at-bats.

The 37-year-old hit .318/.415/.611 with 23 homers and 60 RBI in 90 games last season. Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes have been getting most of the playing time at designated hitter in Big Papi’s absence.

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.