Flaherty set for early return tonight vs. Pirates

June 15th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- When repeatedly told the Cardinals’ coaching staff and management that his right shoulder and stuff felt as good as any point since 2019 -- and the advanced metrics on his pitches backed those claims up -- the franchise decided the hard-throwing right-hander’s next start would be in St. Louis on Wednesday.

Out since reporting to Spring Training in March with right shoulder inflammation, Flaherty made enough progress in recent weeks to cut his planned rehab stint short and make his first start of 2022 against the Pirates.

Originally, Flaherty was scheduled to make a third rehab start for Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday and throw 75 pitches. When Flaherty stressed that he would get more out of an increase in intensity [at the MLB level instead of the Minor League level] than an increase in workload [from 60 to 75 pitches], the Cardinals made the bold move of naming Flaherty as their starter.

“Rehab is a hard thing, and trying to match how you are feeling versus workload, buildup and pitch count and the mental work that goes into it, for me [pitching at the MLB level] was the better option,” Flaherty said.

Manager Oliver Marmol, who has had sporadic talks with Flaherty for weeks while he made stellar starts with Double-A Springfield and Memphis, told Flaherty of the decision to start him on Wednesday in the clubhouse tunnel prior to Monday’s 7-5 win over the Pirates. The plan is for Flaherty to throw up to 60 pitches on Wednesday, and the previously scheduled starter, Andre Pallante, will throw behind him in relief.

“He was very adamant about a couple of things: Mainly physically and mentally, he wanted to increase not just the workload, but also the intensity of everything he’s doing,” Marmol said. “Physically, he feels better than he’s ever felt, so he would rather increase the intensity. So, we’ll keep him at what he did last time [60 pitches on Friday in Memphis], but at a higher intensity.”

Ultimately, Marmol said the franchise must be willing to listen to and trust players when they say that they are ready and then back it up with strong performances.

“All the underlying [pitch-tracking metrics] say that Jack is Jack,” Marmol said, referring to the pitcher who opened last season 8-1 prior to suffering oblique and shoulder injuries. “The reality is – and we’ve talked about this a ton – but we operate out of honesty. Is this something you want to come back because there’s a need?

“We had a very honest conversation, and at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to trust your guys. They trust me, and I trust them. The conversation went well. We pushed back on a couple of areas, but the reality is he feels more comfortable about his progression in this intensity instead of Triple-A intensity.”

Flaherty, who received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his shoulder in March, said he feels better than he did during the last two seasons, when he was the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter in 2020 and ’21. Flaherty said he appreciated the organization listening to his feedback and trusting his belief in his shoulder.

“I appreciate that because we had very honest conversations about how things are going and how we’re feeling, and that’s one of the things that you have to be able to do during this process,” said Flaherty, who struck out six and allowed just one hit in his Sunday start at Triple-A Memphis. “I wouldn’t say I was getting my way, but they’ve seen my stuff and how I have looked and how it plays. The work that everybody put into this whole process … has been so well thought-out and well done that it’s been a good process.”

Marmol said that getting back a potential ace in early June could provide the Cardinals just the jolt they need to maintain another stellar stretch. With starters Jordan Hicks and Steven Matz on the injured list, the return of Flaherty is one that should send a jolt through the Cardinals’ clubhouse.

“I mean, when you are playing well and you’re winning and you get one of your best guys back, I’m in on that,” Marmol said. “That works for me.”