Flaherty (shoulder) undergoes exam; timeline unclear

March 15th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said it would be easy to tell which pitchers are the furthest along in their development by how soon they threw batting practice sessions in Spring Training. So, when Jack Flaherty didn’t throw in Monday’s opening workout and was absent from Tuesday’s second session, it became apparent something was amiss with the Opening Day starter from 2020 and ‘21. 

Flaherty had an examination on his ailing right shoulder on Tuesday, per the Cardinals. The organization expects to learn more about Flaherty’s health and status by Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest.

The timeline is familiar for fellow right-hander Alex Reyes, who went a second day without throwing on Tuesday. He told MLB.com that he underwent an MRI on his right shoulder and was still awaiting the test results. 

Troublesome shoulder injuries to Flaherty and Reyes are blows to a Cardinals organization that hit Spring Training and spoke boldly about having World Series expectations. Franchise fixture Yadier Molina and closer Giovanny Gallegos missed their second straight days because of personal matters, and Flaherty and Reyes have yet to throw off mounds in what will be a condensed Spring Training. If healthy and whole, the Cardinals still feel that they could emerge as the team to beat in the National League Central.

“Anything that’s not a World Series should upset everybody in here,” said right-handed starter Miles Mikolas, who threw 37 pitches in live batting practice on Tuesday. “I think that’s the only way to go about it.” 

Added flame-throwing righty Jordan Hicks, who threw his first bullpen session in his return from two elbow injuries over the last three seasons: “Staff, hitters, fielders -- we’ve got everything. It’s hard to look around this room and not be optimistic about winning a championship.”

The news about Flaherty’s ailing shoulder is yet another blow for the 26-year-old starter, who saw the best stretch of his career cut short last season because of an oblique injury. A salary arbitration winner before the 2021 season, Flaherty was hoping to prove himself healthy this spring and propel himself to another arbitration win in the coming months. Now, however, Flaherty’s immediate future could be in jeopardy.

Flaherty’s massive potential became apparent in 2018, when he struck out 182 batters in 151 innings and posted a 3.34 ERA. He closed ‘19 with a flurry and won a career-high 11 games while striking out 231 batters in 196 1/3 innings, posting a stellar 2.75 ERA.

After being limited to just nine starts and four wins in a pandemic-shortened season in 2020, Flaherty won his first eight decisions in ‘21 and appeared to be headed for his first MLB All-Star Game. However, he suffered an oblique strain during an at-bat in May against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was never the same. Flaherty would win just once more, and he finished the season with a 3.22 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings.

Mikolas and Hicks were the bright spots on Tuesday with their returns from injuries. Mikolas, an All-Star in 2018 when he went 18-4, was limited to just nine starts last season because of a tendon issue in his right elbow. On Tuesday, he held his own in several rounds of live BP against star sluggers Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill. On one of his final pitches, Mikolas dropped down to a three-quarters arm angle and fooled O’Neill on an inside fastball.

“It’s a competition, and we’re always asking one another, ‘How do you feel? How’d that feel?’ It’s fun to have a few guys in the same boat, because we’re all working hard toward the same goal,” Mikolas said of teammates, such as Dakota Hudson, trying to come back from injuries. “You’re sharing stories and routines. ‘Hey, if this is sore, what have you been doing? Have any ideas?’”

Hicks, who tied Aroldis Chapman for the fastest pitch in baseball history in 2018 (105.1 mph) and recorded the fastest pitch of ‘19 (104.2 mph), is back to near full strength after missing much of the past two-and-a-half seasons. He underwent Tommy John surgery in ‘19 and revealed that he suffered “a minor [elbow ligament] tear” last season. He returned by the Arizona Fall League to throw several triple-digit pitches. Hicks, 25, feels his best path moving forward might be to not exert himself so much on pitches. 

“My competitiveness and all-out nature might have [contributed to the injury] ... also, throwing a little harder than average,” Hicks said. “I think [dialing back] could help my long-term health so you’re not all-out all the time. That’s where I think it helps the most.”