Cards lose series opener, Flaherty (shoulder)

Shildt: 'There's some concern when your ace has to go down again'

August 25th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals used the utmost of patience and caution with ’s return after 2 1/2 months away from the mound. Now his future once again looks uncertain.

The right-hander left his start during Tuesday's 4-3 loss against the Tigers after just two-plus innings (46 pitches, 25 strikes) with right shoulder tightness, throwing with a drastically decreased velocity and looking uncomfortable from the second inning onward en route to allowing all four of Detroit's runs.

Stymied by the Tigers and right-hander Casey Mize, the Cards not only might have lost Flaherty for an extended period of time but also lost the chance to keep pace for the second NL Wild Card spot. It was St. Louis’ fifth loss in its past seven games.

Flaherty said he was battling what he described as “normal soreness” in the leadup to Tuesday’s tilt and thought he could pitch through it. But when he was throwing fastballs under 90 mph and allowing back-to-back homers to the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, head trainer Adam Olsen walked up to the mound and then returned to the dugout with the ace, marking Flaherty's second injury-related exit this season.

The right-hander is scheduled to undergo further tests and scans on Wednesday morning, after which the severity of his injury will become clearer. Flaherty preached confidence to reporters but didn’t want to dive deep into the medicals before more information was available.

“I'm just [ticked], I'm just [ticked]. Mentally I'm, you know, I'm just [ticked],” Flaherty said. “Physically, it’s fine, it’s more of a throwing thing than anything. But I’m just [ticked].”

“It’s clearly a concern,” said manager Mike Shildt, who saw another starter go down after having a fully healthy rotation for only the second time this season. “There's some concern when your ace has to go down again.”

The vibes weren’t much better for Flaherty’s teammates, who were stymied by the Tigers and Mize until a three-run rally off Detroit’s bullpen in the eighth while their own bullpen pitched seven scoreless innings. But it was not enough, losing the chance to keep pace for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Flaherty's night was deflated by consecutive homers allowed to Robbie Grossman and Miguel Cabrera. Flaherty has made a point of fluctuating velocity this season, but each fastball he threw to Grossman was under 90 mph, compared to his season average of 93.7. The slider Cabrera rocketed out was thrown 79.2 mph, compared to his season average of 83.8. A slider one pitch prior was tracked at just 77.5 mph.

Flaherty breezed through the first on 11 pitches, walked three in the second -- including Mize in his first career plate appearance, on four pitches with the bases loaded -- and was then removed after his last pitch resulted in Cabrera’s second-longest homer of the season, 422 feet into Big Mac Land.

“It just got less comfortable as the game went on,” Flaherty said, adding that he wouldn’t have started the game if he felt like it was a concern. “Tried to give everything I had and ignore it. ... We got through the first and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m good. We can keep it going.’ And just in between [the first and second innings], it stiffened up.”

Flaherty was just three starts returned from a left oblique injury sustained on May 31 which included a partial tear. He was dynamite in his first two starts back, earning a win and a no-decision, and reported to come out healthy in each outing.

Tests and further evaluation will reveal the extent and nature of Flaherty’s newest injury and also the possibility of the two being linked. Shildt didn’t believe the ailments were directly connected but couldn’t rule out the possibility.

“Can’t say there's not [concern] at all,” Shildt said. “Maybe some concern if [it were the] first time out, but he's been back with us for three starts. That's pretty much two full weeks, plus a nice, long rehab. I think it would have shown up, but maybe he's altered something. I'm not sure, but I really don't believe it's associated with the oblique. Jack can answer that better than I. He hasn’t complained about it.”

Asked if they were connected, Flaherty responded that, “The shoulder was tight.”

The oblique injury represented Flaherty’s first career stint on the injured list. Now St. Louis hopes this latest injury doesn’t result in his second.

But if it does, and Flaherty has to miss any time, where can the Cardinals turn? They saw a pair of options pitch on Tuesday night, with the first man in relief of Flaherty and tossing 2 2/3 no-hit innings (working around a pair of walks) in his re-debut out of the bullpen.

Kim stands as the most logical choice to slot back in, given his 19 starts already this season. The Cardinals had said he would have needed another rehab start to re-slot into the rotation, but he built himself up to 46 pitches on Tuesday after throwing 34 in his only rehab outing on Thursday.