With Skaggs in mind, Flaherty hurls another gem

Win moves Cardinals into sole possession of first place in NL Central

August 24th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- used the first day of Players’ Weekend to honor his friend Tyler Skaggs, the Angels pitcher who died in early July.

One of nine Major Leaguers who paid tribute to Skaggs, the Cardinals starter wore “LOVE YOU TY” on the back of his jersey and had shoes designed as a tribute to Skaggs. The Angels’ logo and halo, No. 45 and the phrase “bring the spark” were drawn on the shoes.

Flaherty represented Skaggs the way he wanted to by being the spark in Friday’s 8-3 win over the Rockies.

Although he said felt more emotion before the game with Skaggs’ name on his back, Flaherty settled in quickly and threw six scoreless innings, allowed three hits and struck out nine.

“It means a lot, it really does,” Flaherty said about honoring Skaggs. “Being able to have his name across the back in some type of fashion was something I really wanted to do, and I’m thankful we had the opportunity and the other guys around the league who did it. … It was something that -- it was awesome. It was really nice to have something like that.”

Friday night was a continuation of what Flaherty has done since his start before the All-Star break, when he held the Giants to one hit and one run in seven innings on July 7. Including that start and Friday’s start, Flaherty has a 0.80 ERA -- five runs in 56 1/3 innings -- in his last eight games. His fastball command and control of the rest of his pitches is what is making him so effective recently, and it showed again Friday night.

“The stuff plays,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “It's a velocity fastball. He kept it down at the knees, good slider, mixed in a slower breaking ball. He pitched well. The hit rate is low. The hits per innings pitched is a good ratio. That tells you right off the bat the stuff is good -- good K rate, good hits to innings pitched rate. It's a good arm, good delivery. Tonight, he was on."

Before this run of dominance, Flaherty had a 4.90 ERA in the first half of the season. But his outings are becoming less of an anomaly and more of Flaherty being the pitcher that the Cardinals saw him being at the start of the season.

“It’s just staying sharp,” Flaherty said. “You try to -- the start before the All-Star break, you try to carry a start like that into the next one. Continuing to move on and stay right there. Not try to do anything more, not go, ‘OK, we did a really good job, now let’s just try to make it better.’ It’s just continuing to execute in those situations.”

Flaherty’s ascendance couldn’t come at a better time. The Cardinals are flying toward the finish of what has been a relentless National League Central race against the Cubs and the Brewers. After Friday’s win and the Cubs’ loss, the Cardinals -- who are 11 games above .500 for the first time this season -- moved a half-game ahead of the Cubs for first place in the division. It’s been back and forth with Chicago in the second half of the season, with the Brewers creeping up in the standings, too.

That makes every win important, and Flaherty has been instrumental in keeping the Cardinals in the fight thus far. He’ll be instrumental as the season wears on, the race becomes even tighter and the Cardinals need their best players performing at their best. Flaherty threw 88 pitches (60 strikes) Friday night and could have gone another inning, but the Cardinals were up 8-0 at that point and need Flaherty to stay rested as the postseason inches nearer.

“He’s got more baseball to pitch,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “It’s important he’s good, it’s important all of our starters are good. You want to have several guys, and Jack’s been one of them, where you go out and you feel like, ‘Hey, we’re going to -- let’s go.’ He’s in control of what he’s doing. It’s been big for us, it really has.”