Arenado debuts to cheers; Flaherty shaky

March 1st, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- The cheers were obvious, for baseball to be back in South Florida and with fans occupying the seats at a Cardinals game for the first time in almost a year.

But the cheers roared louder for one Cardinal in particular. finally heard his name called in the middle of a St. Louis lineup. Even after his 0-for-2 debut, cheers lingered -- and they will continue to do so through 2027, the Cards hope.

That’s the catch about Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, which St. Louis tied, 4-4, with the Nationals: They contained just the first two at-bats of Arenado’s Cardinals tenure.

The first two of many.

“It's just nice to see that name in the lineup,” manager Mike Shildt said pregame. “It's nice to have that anchor in the lineup, and clearly it's just a really exciting time for the organization and for Nolan.”

What mattered less was Arenado’s day: a strikeout (called on appeal) in the first and a weak flyout to center in the third. As does the one ball hit his way on defense, which deflected off his glove and into the outfield for a hit -- 100.9 mph off the bat of Victor Robles in the second.

Sunday was an introduction -- and a raucous one at that -- not just to the 1,204 in attendance in Jupiter, but also to those home in St. Louis, too.

Arenado is a Cardinal.

“These fans are great,” Arenado said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for them from the other side, and now to have them on my side is a pretty unbelievable feeling.”

“Seeing him go out there with the guys and take the field as a Cardinal, I hope that’s something he doesn’t forget,” Shildt added. “Clearly, he’ll have more moments for that, especially when we open up on the 8th of April.”

On the check swing called a third strike, Arenado wasn’t pleased with losing an opportunity to get a knock with the bases loaded. He’s still honing his timing, he said, typically needing around 50 at-bats to feel like his normal self.

Though his performance is not yet in midseason form, his attitude already is.

“I was not happy about it, that’s for sure,” Arenado said. “I wanted to drive them in.”

Flaherty’s less ceremonious day
The Cardinals’ belief in endured through his struggles in 2020. The same is true after one lackluster start in Grapefruit League action.

Flaherty threw 23 pitches in the first inning vs. Washington, notching a leadoff punchout before conceding a single and two walks as the frame was ended early (an allowance managers have at the onset of Spring Training to control pitch counts while arms ramp up). The second inning didn’t go much more smoothly: three consecutive singles, two wild pitches and a walk to end his afternoon at 39 pitches (22 balls).

“Pitched horribly, set a horrible tone, but [Thomas] Parsons came in and did a really good job after me, and then Johnny Gant picked up from there,” Flaherty said. “Bad way to set a tone for the team for spring, but the guys came and picked me up.”

In a follow-up question from Post-Dispatch columnist Benjamin Hochman, who asked Flaherty if he was trying out anything specific on Sunday, Flaherty responded: “No, Ben, I was just terrible. Just terrible.”

It’s all part of the natural buildup process and rough patches that will be ironed out over the next five weeks before Flaherty’s Opening Day start in Cincinnati.

“You take every experience, positive or negative, but there's always something to take away from it,” Flaherty said. “So figure out what that is and get back to the next time out.”

Around the horn
• Miles Mikolas, originally planned to start a simulated game during the Cards’ off-day Monday, is being pushed back. Mikolas is working his way back from surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm.

“For now, it’s caution,” Shildt said.

• As he eyes the fifth and final rotation spot, Gant (as Flaherty alluded to) impressed in his first spring audition. A planned multi-inning affair, the right-hander shed away a light yet steady rainfall to strike out three across two innings, walking a pair. More results like these could force the Cards’ hand and give him a longer look in the rotation. Carlos Martínez and Alex Reyes are two other prime candidates hoping to do the same.

• Speaking of Reyes, he was given one inning to acquaint himself with competition on Sunday. He looks like he could have waltzed his way through more. Nine pitches were needed for a 1-2-3 frame, featuring a sinker that topped at 97.8 mph -- and never dipped below 96 -- for an almost 20 mph difference for hitters against his 79.7 mph curveball.