'I will pitch again this season': Flaherty, Cards optimistic

June 28th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Patient throughout a 2 1/2-month process where Jack Flaherty used a platelet-rich plasma injection, rest and strengthening exercises to calm the inflammation in his right shoulder, the Cardinals and their former Opening Day starter unexpectedly deviated from that plan when Flaherty was named the June 15 starter.

Originally scheduled to make four rehab starts in the Minor Leagues before rejoining St. Louis, that plan changed when Flaherty pitched well in two Minor League starts and when he repeatedly stressed that he was ready to return. Flaherty’s performance at the MLB level, however, suggested otherwise, and when the pitcher left Sunday’s game after just two innings with more stiffness in his right shoulder, it led to questions as to whether his return was premature.

The answers as to why Flaherty returned significantly sooner than originally scheduled varied greatly Monday when the hard-throwing right-hander was placed on the 15-day injured list. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak pointed to the club’s inability to insist on a veteran player remaining in the rehab cycle, while Flaherty downplayed his latest injury and insisted that he wouldn’t change a thing about how his rehab process was handled.

“If you are asking, ‘What would you second-guess?’ I think it would be, ‘Could we have extended him longer on the rehab assignment?’ That is always possible,” Mozeliak said. “A lot of [the reason Flaherty was activated early] is based on the feedback you’re getting back from the athlete. At that point, he was very optimistic with where he was. Internally, we debated that, but ultimately, it wasn’t our decision. We laid out a plan, the plan was deviated, here we are.

“My explanation is if you’re looking at second-guessing something, it could be the fact that we didn’t stick to the original plan,” Mozeliak said.

Flaherty, 32-24 with a 3.38 ERA in his young career, battled nerves, mechanics and his command in his three starts back with St. Louis. He needed 60 and 71 pitches to get through three innings in each of his first two starts -- outings that included a combined seven walks and five earned runs. On Sunday against the Cubs, Flaherty pitched out of trouble in the first and second innings, but he did not return for the third after throwing just 49 pitches -- far fewer than the 80+ he was cleared to throw.

The 26-year-old Flaherty thinks there should be no connection between the abrupt end to his rehab plan and his struggles at the MLB level.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” said Flaherty, who had a 5.63 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP in his three most recent starts. “I felt great, we did everything the right way. … I wouldn’t really change anything. It’s unfortunate, what’s happened, but we did everything right, we were honest with each other through the whole process, and everything felt great. I came out and didn’t pitch well in the first two, but [Sunday], I came out and pitching a lot better and executing way better in the first inning. … I was finally getting in a groove but I just didn’t feel right or 100 percent.”

While Mozeliak said the Cardinals are “pretty optimistic” that Flaherty will pitch again this season, the hard-throwing righty was even more bold when asked about his timetable for returning this season.

“I will pitch again this season. Next question,” said Flaherty while insisting that he won’t be starting from “square one” when his time on the IL expires.

Like the dozens of decisions that he has to make nightly with his bullpen, pinch-hitters and filling out his lineup card, manager Oliver Marmol insisted he will second-guess himself as to whether the organization allowed Flaherty to return too early instead of sticking with the original plan.

“The plan initially, he could have gone out to one or two more starts in order to get him to 75 and 90 [pitches] in that last [rehab start], but when we made the decision, we were open as to how that decision took place,” Marmol said. “The nature of this business is to second-guess, so I can’t help but second-guess it. I second-guess every move I make and every decision I make throughout the day. That’s how we get better.

“At the end of this day, we sat in this room and we discussed what Jack wanted, what we wanted and what’s best moving forward and we left the room with the decision of, 'All right, this is what we’re going to do,'” Marmol added. “Did it work out? No. But could this have happened in Triple-A [during a rehab start]? Yes. You can second-guess it, but the reality is he’s back on the IL.”