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Studious Flaherty developing ROY case

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

MILWAUKEE -- Though two home runs by Jesus Aguilar largely negated it, Jack Flaherty's dominance in the Cardinals' 2-1 loss on Friday was plain to see: The righty took a no-hitter into the seventh, struck out 13 and garnered a dozen swings and misses on his slider alone.

Flaherty's bubbling National League Rookie of the Year candidacy has become impossible to ignore.

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MILWAUKEE -- Though two home runs by Jesus Aguilar largely negated it, Jack Flaherty's dominance in the Cardinals' 2-1 loss on Friday was plain to see: The righty took a no-hitter into the seventh, struck out 13 and garnered a dozen swings and misses on his slider alone.

Flaherty's bubbling National League Rookie of the Year candidacy has become impossible to ignore.

View Full Game Coverage

Flaherty's electric night provided the Cardinals a start they desperately needed, and it continued his personal ascent up the Major League rookie leaderboards. The 22-year-old now ranks second among all rookie starters (minimum five starts) in ERA (2.50) and strikeouts-per-nine (10.61), pacing NL rookies in both categories. He is third among all first-year pitchers in fWAR (1.1), fifth in innings pitched (57 2/3) and seventh in FIP (3.41).

"He prepares beyond his years," Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "If you saw him, you would think he's been around the block."

The secret for Flaherty, club officials say, is a combination of study and stuff. Every day for the past 18 months or so, Flaherty cracks open a journal to document his life. With diligent detail, Flaherty chronicles what he calls "the good, the bad and the ugly": what worked on the mound, what didn't, how certain workouts affect his body, thoughts on how to attack the next cleanup hitter and on and on.

Tweet from @Cardinals: .@Jack9Flaherty���s 88 strikeouts in his first 16 career games are the most among all Cardinals. pic.twitter.com/YlhusZJrmd

By outlining it all in the journal, which the Cardinals give to their players in Spring Training, Flaherty is essentially plotting out his progress in real time. And the bad and the ugly parts are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

"It's helped me get back to the basics when things get out of whack. Knowing who I am, what I need to do," Flaherty said. "In the past, I really struggled to repeat things and repeat certain feelings. Even conversations, I could never remember full details. In school, if I had to take a test, I took diligent notes, I could remember being in that classroom hearing it. Things would come back to me, like a story."

Flaherty says doing so has helped change the direction of his narrative. He's "back to who I am" after struggling to a 6.33 ERA across a six-game big league cameo last summer at age 21. He is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 10 starts this season, and 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in eight starts since rejoining the rotation full time in May, in place of injured Adam Wainwright.

Gant gets the call 
It'll be right-hander John Gant who starts Monday against the Indians in Michael Wacha's spot -- not No. 3 prospect Dakota Hudson -- manager Mike Matheny confirmed Saturday. Gant pitched two innings in relief Thursday, when he was recalled to replace Wacha on the active roster.

The club expects Wacha to miss at least a few weeks with a strained left oblique, though it's unclear if Gant will assume his rotation spot long term. Gant has been the Cardinals' primary fill-in starter -- Monday will mark his fourth spot start of the year -- but he hasn't pitched particularly well. The righty is 1-2 with a 4.39 ERA across eight appearances overall, and 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA as a starter.

Those numbers are almost unrecognizable from Gant's stats at Triple-A Memphis, where Daniel Poncedeleon has also pitched well. St. Louis truncated Poncedeleon's last start to keep him in line for Monday, in case Gant needs to be used in emergency relief again this weekend.

Both are candidates to start in Wacha's spot short term, but in the long term, Hudson may have the inside edge on the job. The 23-year-old paces the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League in wins (nine) and ERA (2.13), while also ranking among the league leaders in innings and WHIP (1.33). A sinkerballer with a plus-slider, Hudson has allowed one home run across 80 1/3 innings this season.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Flaherty