KANSAS CITY -- Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty is not a fan of the designated hitter.
Not because he doesn’t like facing them when he’s pitching, but because having a DH in the lineup means he doesn’t get to hit, as was the case in Tuesday night's 2-0 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
“It was boring,” Flaherty said, laughing.
Flaherty’s impact on the other side of the game, however, was anything but boring. He threw seven scoreless innings in the I-70 Series opener -- pitching his club to a fourth straight victory and moving St. Louis to one game behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central standings.
The 23-year-old starter has thrown a career-high 23 consecutive scoreless innings, which is tied for the second-longest stretch by any pitcher in the Majors this season. It’s the longest by a Cardinals starter in a season since Adam Wainwright threw 25 straight scoreless frames in 2014.
“As long as at the end of the day we’ve got more runs than they do, that’s all that matters,” Flaherty said. “It’s just continuing to go out and execute.”
This was Flaherty’s third straight outing of seven scoreless innings. In his last seven starts, dating to July 7 against the Giants, Flaherty has a 0.79 ERA, allowing just four runs on 22 hits in 45 1/3 innings. Against the Royals, Flaherty struck out seven, intentionally walked one batter and allowed three hits.
“That’s been Jack, that’s who he is,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He’s been a frontline, elite guy. Conviction with his fastball, location with his fastball, nice short slider. Sprinkled in a couple of really dirty changeups. Just outstanding pitching.”
The heaviest traffic Flaherty faced was in the sixth when he allowed back-to-back singles. But he got Alex Gordon to ground into a double play, and with Nicky Lopez on third base, Flaherty struck out Hunter Dozier swinging with a 95-mph fastball.
In that at-bat, Flaherty threw Dozier eight straight fastballs. He got in an 0-2 count and tried to hit the corners for the next three pitches. Then, Dozier fouled off the next two. On the eighth pitch, Flaherty went high and inside to get Dozier to swing and miss to end the inning.
“We located the first two, well we located the first four, he just stayed off of it,” Flaherty said. “We got 0-2, and we just expanded a little bit. He laid off of them. But we know he got the slider in the first inning and he stayed on it, so at that point, as those innings get on, the tendency is to throw your best pitch. But sometimes the arm gets a little bit slow, and sometimes it’s easier to get on top of a fastball. But was just a matter of executing.”
Flaherty struck out seven, but none came until after three innings -- later than usual for him. In the early innings, Flaherty was relying on weak contact and the defense behind him. That development has been where Flaherty has grown the most over his recent success.
“The thing that’s been able to allow him to go deep in games is he doesn’t need the strikeout,” Shildt said. “It’s there when he needs it, and I think that’s been the next step for Jack, knowing when he can get his contact, where he can get it -- early in counts with a quality pitch -- and then in certain situations knowing he can get those punchouts.”
Flaherty said he’s better executing, locating and trusting his pitches depending on the situation at hand.
“You don’t have to nibble all the time,” he said. “Sometimes you’re going to fall behind and get into not-so-great counts. But you’re going to have to challenge hitters depending on the situation, playing the game within the game and not just playing to the corners every time. Then you can get in a situation, first and second nobody out, it’s time to bear down, work the corners and really execute.”