JUPITER, Fla. -- It's a matter of when, not if, Jack Flaherty will start in the big leagues. Barring injury to another arm, the 22-year-old's chances to crack the Opening Day roster are slim, despite the swing-and-miss stuff he has flashed this spring. But Cardinals officials view him as the
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's a matter of when, not if, Jack Flaherty will start in the big leagues. Barring injury to another arm, the 22-year-old's chances to crack the Opening Day roster are slim, despite the swing-and-miss stuff he has flashed this spring. But Cardinals officials view him as the next man up, often interchanging him in conversations with the recovering Alex Reyes.
This a great problem to have as a club. Reyes and Flaherty are the organization's top two prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Thursday offered a glimpse of why. Flaherty continued to open eyes in his latest outing of the spring, when he spun, sliced and spotted his way through five brilliant innings in St. Louis' 1-0 loss to the Orioles.
"Very good," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Very impressive."
The outing represented weeks of improvement for Flaherty, who has spent much of the exhibition season on the backfields, beta testing his two-seam fastball. If the former first-round pick can command that pitch, club officials salivate over how it could play off his slider, which they already consider special. And it could be what gets him through the door to St. Louis, and keeps him there.
"Think about it from a right-handed hitter's perspective," Matheny said. "When you're dealing more with the ball bearing in on you, that would lead to more success with the ones breaking away. I think he's maximizing his best pitch by adding movement with his fastball."
Matheny and pitching coach Mike Maddux have made harnessing that movement the main focus of Flaherty's spring, and they've paid close attention to its progress. Whether he gets another outing or not, the club ensured Flaherty at least four starts, a high number for a player not technically competing for a rotation spot.
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He was successful in two innings during his first start of the spring, but then struggled in the second, before improving in each one since. Thursday, he showed the slider early, then worked the two-seamer almost in reverse, commanding both well enough to strike out eight over five innings.
Flaherty has compiled 20 strikeouts in 13 innings this spring.
"It's all repetition. The more time you throw it, the more you can be consistent with it," he said. "I feel like I've been making improvements with it every single day."
Much of that has transpired under the watchful eyes of Matheny and Maddux, who've monitored Flaherty's bullpens and live batting practice sessions closely in recent weeks. They've encouraged Flaherty to tinker with his two-seam grip, and experiment with how he sequences it.
The righty self-chronicles his progress in a portable journal he stores in his locker, and analyzes video back in the rental house he shares with catcher Carson Kelly, among others.
"There isn't a finish line there for Jack," Kelly said. "He keeps going. I've seen a difference between this year and last year. He seems more poised."
Last year, when Kelly caught Flaherty for the majority of his 15 starts at Triple-A, he said the two-seamer "occasionally would move."
Now Matheny calls it "different" than it was last year, when Flaherty allowed 15 earned runs over his initial five-start big league cameo.
This spring, Kelly said: "Sometimes I catch one and think, 'Goodness gracious.'"
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.