Mat Latos throws first bullpen session of spring

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Reds right-hander Mat Latos needed surgery in early February for a torn meniscus in his left knee and has yet to appear in a Cactus League game. But he took a significant step forward on Wednesday in camp:

Mat Latos threw off of the mound for the first time since his left knee surgery on Feb. 14 to repair a meniscus tear. Latos threw 20 pitches, including five changeups. The rest, he said, were two-seam and four-seam fastballs.

That report comes from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon.

“Everything feels fantastic,” Latos told Sheldon shortly after the workout. “I expected a little bit of soreness while I was throwing or to feel it once or twice. … I let go for the last one and cut it loose and didn’t feel anything in the knee or the elbow. That’s a plus.”

Latos seems unlikely to pitch on Opening Day (March 31 against the Cardinals) but he should be ready by the first or second week of April. The 26-year-old registered a 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 187 strikeouts in 210 2/3 innings last season for Cincinnati. He is eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 campaign.

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.