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Flaherty sharp in win, makes case to stay

Rookie backed by four early runs, including Carpenter's leadoff HR
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

PITTSBURGH -- The largest of a considerable number of questions looming over the Cardinals heads is something of an existential one, its answer not yet required but on the forefront all the same. Moreso than how to best streamline its stop-and-go lineup or rebuild its balky bridge to the ninth, a starting-rotation decision weighs most heavily on club officials' minds.

What's a team to do when it has six starters for five spots?

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PITTSBURGH -- The largest of a considerable number of questions looming over the Cardinals heads is something of an existential one, its answer not yet required but on the forefront all the same. Moreso than how to best streamline its stop-and-go lineup or rebuild its balky bridge to the ninth, a starting-rotation decision weighs most heavily on club officials' minds.

What's a team to do when it has six starters for five spots?

View Full Game Coverage

At the crux of this conundrum sits Jack Flaherty, who could ostensibly be the odd man out with Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez on the mend. Flaherty continued to make his case to stay in Saturday's 4-1 win over the Pirates, a performance that didn't figure to make any impending decision any easier.

"He didn't necessarily need to show us anything. We knew he could pitch, though I will say what we saw from a year ago is enhanced," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's making the right moves in the right direction."

Video: STL@PIT: Matheny on strength of new-look lineup

The 22-year-old's latest case to stay wasn't as eye-catching as his 13-strikeout gem last time out, but it was nearly as effective. Backed by four runs of early support, Flaherty cruised through six innings to outpitch Trevor Williams and lower his ERA to 2.15 across five starts. He allowed little more than Starling Marte's solo home run in the first, scattering the other three hits and striking out four.

Matt Carpenter's leadoff homer and Jose Martinez's three knocks paced an 11-hit attack against five Pirates pitchers, setting a margin Flaherty and three St. Louis relievers combined to hold. Jordan Hicks breezed through much of the seventh and eighth before Bud Norris notched his 10th save with a scoreless ninth, secruing St. Louis' first win at PNC Park in five tries this season.

Video: STL@PIT: Norris strikes out Polanco to earn the save

Relying heavily on his revamped sinker and flashing a seldom-used changeup, Flaherty earned his second win in as many starts after going winless in his first eight tries. He's held opponents to just three earned runs over his last 19 1/3 innings pitched, a three-start stretch he's made in place of injured Adam Wainwright.

"It's good to get in a routine and stay in a groove," Flaherty said. "And help the ballclub win every five days."

Flaherty appears in position to do so without much controversy in at least the short-term, even with Reyes' return from Tommy John surgery slated for Wednesday in Milwaukee. But once Martinez returns from a strained lat -- he began a throwing program this week -- the Cardinals won't be able to ignore the tough questions they're tamping down now. It would require some serious creativity to somehow cycle Flaherty, Reyes and Luke Weaver around two spots.

Video: STL@PIT: Martinez drives in a run with an RBI single

"I just want them going out and playing, and I hate when they have to look over their shoulder all the time," Matheny said. "I understand you guys have to speculate on what's going to happen. But we just want guys to go play. Thinking that some move is looming is never advantageous for them."

Said Flaherty: "We want those guys back. We want Reyes coming back. The dude was unbelievable in all his rehab starts. You want Carlos back. Those guys are special. You want them on your team, you want them on your side. That said, I want to be run out there every five days. I want to pitch and try to put the team in a position to win."

Video: STL@PIT: Munoz hits an RBI single to third

SOUND SMART
Carpenter tagged Williams' second pitch of the afternoon 417 feet to the back of the right-field bleachers for his second leadoff home run of the season and 16th of his career. That ranks second in franchise history behind Lou Brock's 21.

Video: STL@PIT: Carpenter crushes a solo home run to right

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The list of injured Cardinals -- already one of the longest in baseball -- grew throughout the afternoon. The club placed struggling reliever Greg Holland on the DL prior to first pitch, then played much of the game without Dexter Fowler, who exited after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning. Fowler had to be helped off the field after being struck with a Williams fastball behind the right knee. Fowler is considered day-to-day after X-rays on his knee came back negative, though the club is not ruling out the possibility of Fowler needing a DL stint.

"It was as painful as it looked," Fowler said. More >

Video: STL@PIT: Fowler exits after being hit by a pitch

HE SAID IT
"We've been burnt before when we start counting things that are going to happen. We'll address it when we need to. And [the pitchers] need to think about none of it, except what's happening right here and right now. The more stuff that gets out there the more of a distraction it is." -- Matheny, on the rotation questions

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
A well-used challenge helped Flaherty get through the fourth inning unscathed, when Gregory Polanco was ruled out at first on a double play to end the inning. Polanco was initially called safe after Yairo Munoz's throw pulled Martinez off the first-base bag. But a 26-second review revealed Martinez had tagged Polanco as he reached back toward the baseline.

Video: STL@PIT: Cardinals turn double play after review 

UP NEXT
The Cardinals will again don specialty gray-and-camouflage jerseys in observance of Memorial Day weekend when this three-game set concludes with Sunday's matinee. Coming off his first shutout, Miles Mikolas (6-0, 2.24 ERA) looks to continue the sensational restart to his Major League career. He'll line up against Jameson Taillon (2-4, 4.56 ERA). First pitch is set for 12:35 pm CT from PNC Park.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Carpenter, Jack Flaherty, Jose Martinez