Flaherty's start truncated by side tightness

June 1st, 2021

On a night he was nicked briefly, a night he displayed utter dominance and a night he was pitching in front of friends and family -- paying homage to a local legend and childhood idol along the way -- ’s night ended unceremoniously.

The Cardinals’ ace was pulled early amid a 9-4 loss to his hometown Dodgers with left side tightness, feeling the discomfort creep in during the last pitches he threw and then sensing it set in more fully during his last at-bat in the top of Monday’s sixth inning at Dodger Stadium.

Flaherty is set for further testing on Tuesday morning, after which the Cardinals will be able to more fully gauge his status for his immediate future and next start.

"I still feel good. I feel like I'm in a good spot,” Flaherty said. “Just kind of gauge things as we go from here."

It was not just a deflating end to an auspicious night for Flaherty, but for the Cardinals in total. Staked to a 3-2 lead immediately following Flaherty’s exit in the sixth -- an inning that featured lead-seizing blasts from Justin Williams and Dylan Carlson -- the bullpen immediately conceded a four-run bottom of the frame and then gave the lethal Dodgers lineup three more runs in the eighth. In doing so, St. Louis fell out of first place for the first time since May 2.

But the source of most concern from Monday is Flaherty, who has not landed on the injured list in his big league career -- and is hopeful that will hold true following Tuesday’s results.

“I don’t leave games, I don’t come out of games,” Flaherty said. “It was just something that I just wanted to check on.”

On an 0-1 pitch from Trevor Bauer in the sixth, Flaherty fouled off a slider and grimaced as he collected himself to return to the batter’s box. Sensing the tightness creep in the half-inning prior, swinging made the issue flare up, manager Mike Shildt said, and Flaherty reported the discomfort.

The righty did not return for the bottom of the inning, after just five frames and 83 pitches thrown -- with an eye-popping nine punchouts sprinkled in.

“We're hopeful that it's nothing too serious, but obviously it was bothering tonight and impacted him coming out of the game,” Shildt said.

Any time on the shelf would be a brutal development for both Flaherty and the Cards, who have relied upon him heavily for an 8-1 record through his first 10 starts. A rotation that has seen its nicks and bruises has also seen Flaherty amass a 2.90 ERA through his first 11 outings (Monday at Dodger Stadium included).

But encouraging is the nature of Flaherty's ailment, impacting him on his non-throwing side.

“A little bit of tightness that I felt and that was something to bring up,” Flaherty said. “More just to be safe, just to get checked out, just to make sure everything's all right.”

A pause in Flaherty’s season would also mean a pause in his revival campaign, pitching to the ace status the Cardinals have needed after his career-worst 2020 season.

That revived dominance was on display back in his hometown, as Flaherty worked around back-to-back homers in the second inning for nine strikeouts in just five frames, at one point striking out five in a row from the third into the fourth inning -- two short of tying John Smoltz's club record.

“Just getting going at that point,” Flaherty said. “Just starting to get to the point of emptying the tank.”

Truth be told, Flaherty was en route to his Major League-leading ninth victory by the time of his exit on Monday night, buoyed by the huge homers from Williams and Carlson (as well as another from Tyler O’Neill). But by the time the bullpen conceded four runs a half-frame later, any possible good feelings from an already concerning night went awry.