ST. LOUIS -- Before Thursday’s game, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt described Jack Flaherty as “in control” during his recent starts -- with his tempo, his poise, his pitches and his results.
Flaherty gave his manager no reason to take back those words on Thursday night.
In his seven innings of the Cardinals’ 8-0 win over the Cubs, Flaherty carried a no-hitter into the sixth with two outs, until Nicholas Castellanos lined a single into right field for the Cubs’ only hit of the night. Flaherty silenced the rest of the Cubs’ lineup with nine strikeouts.
It’s the second time that Flaherty has been on no-hitter watch this season; he had one into the seventh against the Giants on July 7.
“I always know,” Flaherty said about the no-hitter, cracking a grin. “It’s never a secret.”
Flaherty shoved the Cardinals into sole possession of first place in the National League Central, giving St. Louis a crucial series win over its rivals at Busch Stadium.
“I think Jack just continues to grow his craft,” Shildt said. “I appreciate the way Jack is -- I used the term before the game, and it was evident during the game -- Jack’s just in control. He’s got a clarity to what he’s doing.”
And the bonus? Flaherty (5-6) finally got the win he was looking for. He was winless over his last 12 starts, the last one dating back to May 14 in Atlanta. Before Thursday, Flaherty had a 1.48 ERA in his last four starts, but he hadn’t gotten much, if any, run support across that span.
“There are some days where you’re not in line [with the offense], but it works itself out,” Flaherty said. “But, then again, winners win. And if I look at myself as a winner, then I need to start getting more of those. The more time you put the team in a position to win, it’s going to take care of itself.”
Flaherty’s recent surge has been because of pitch execution. In other words, Flaherty has been able to throw strikes in the right place at the right time. His fastball command has been better, and his slider’s effectiveness has improved.
The whiff rate (swings and misses) on Flaherty’s slider has improved from 45 percent through June to 52 percent in July alone, according to Statcast. On Thursday, the pitch had eight misses on 21 swings (38 percent).
“I think that comes off being able to execute with the fastball,” Flaherty said. “The more I’m able to execute with that, the better everything else is. We were able to make very, very small adjustments with everything, keeping it real simple and continuing to build off it that way.”
Flaherty’s strikeouts came mostly on his fastball -- which averaged 95 mph and topped out at 97 mph -- and his slider. After walking Castellanos in the first inning in a seven-pitch at-bat, Flaherty made an adjustment with his fastball to bring it away from the outside corner. It was smooth sailing from there, as he mixed in the slider to keep the Cubs on their toes.
“You saw good life to his fastball, good location with his fastball,” Shildt said. “Down, up when appropriate, just a lot of quality pitches. Slider was short with some depth to it. Just in complete control with where he was going with it.”
When the Cardinals failed to make a move at the Trade Deadline, the front office insisted they still believed the club could win the division with the pieces it already had. Thursday’s game seemed to prove it, at least for a night.
Flaherty looked like the quality starter the Cardinals needed in the rotation to face strong lineups -- especially after the Cubs upgraded theirs with Castellanos and Tony Kemp at the Deadline. And the Cardinals’ offense showed up with four runs in the sixth inning and knocking around Cubs left-hander Jon Lester for nine hits.
“It shows what we’re capable of,” Shildt said. “We’ve been proving that. Tonight was well played in all phases. Jack set the tone, defense made some plays, the offense was really, really good. The whole lineup was really good. Just good baseball.”
O’Neill day to day
Left fielder Tyler O'Neill was scratched from Thursday’s lineup with a minor hand issue (irritation in a joint). Shildt said O’Neill was day to day, and the Cardinals will evaluate him before Saturday’s game in Oakland.
“Something grabbed on him. We don’t think it’s serious, but it prevented him from being in the game tonight,” Shildt said.