Flaherty hopes to return by season's end

September 6th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals ace played catch on Sunday for the first time since sustaining a right shoulder strain on Aug. 24. He did the same on Monday, before his club opened a four-game set against the Dodgers. And he’ll continue to do so for as long as he needs to before he’s ready to throw off a mound.

That’s the loose schedule Flaherty faces as he tries to ready himself for a return before the end of the season. That’s far from a given, but he’s hopeful he can do so. It will depend on how he recovers from his early throwing sessions.

The proverbial race against the clock is something that he’s not trying to pay too much mind to -- especially in the early going of his rehab.

“I think that's a dangerous game to play,” Flaherty said. “I don't think you can do that. I think I’ll go out there and watch these guys compete day in and day out and allow them to do their thing. I’ll listen to my arm and listen to how things go, but when you look at the clock or look at the calendar and you put yourself in a race against it and be like, ‘Oh, I have to be back by this time,’ then you just compromise [yourself].”

Manager Mike Shildt has kept open the possibility that Flaherty could return in a bullpen role in order to get back before the close of the regular season. Another option could be a piggyback situation with Dakota Hudson, who is working forward through his Tommy John rehab.

The scans taken on Flaherty's shoulder on Aug. 25 revealed no structural damage -- both through the club’s initial analysis and after they sent them for a second opinion.

The biggest impetus he’s facing is building back strength and making sure his throws are not followed by discomfort. But he’s leaving any sort of schedule to the medical team.

“At least for me that’s [what I feel I need], but I’m sure they have their little checkpoints that I got to pass that I got to hit in order to move forward,” Flaherty said. “I rely on them for those things. For me, just day in, day out, just figuring out where the arm’s at.”

But the biggest part that pains him is that he’s not able to help his team try to stay afloat in the National League Wild Card chase. The Cardinals enter play Monday three games back of the Padres for the second Wild Card spot with two teams between them. The Cardinals are 10-4 in games started by Flaherty this season -- including each of the two games he exited with injuries.

Flaherty had not been placed on the Major League injured list prior to this season and has now done so twice, missing 2 1/2 months from June to mid-August with a left oblique strain.

Ninth-inning role ‘fluid’

When St. Louis bumped Alex Reyes out of his bona fide closing role, Shildt acknowledged that the end of games would be determined more by matchups and game situations. That has manifested in Giovanny Gallegos being tasked with each of the three save situations that arose over the past week.

Gallegos converted his first two, but set up Reyes for the heartbreaking walk-off grand slam that unfolded on Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. Asked if Luis García, owner of the longest scoreless innings streak in the Majors, could see closing opportunities now, Shildt said that it would be very likely.

“It’s really about who's available to some degree, but Gio threw a lot and García has been very good,” Shildt said. “He’s done his part in his roles and he's been getting more higher leverage situations, and now possibly to the final one on occasion.”

Thursday’s starter in the air

The Cardinals have listed Kwang Hyun Kim as their probable starter for Thursday’s series finale against the Dodgers, but Shildt acknowledged it remains to be seen how they line up for that game.

Kim, who has struggled with left elbow inflammation over the past month, struggled in 1 2/3 innings on Saturday. Pitching behind him was Jake Woodford, who tossed 5 1/3 clean innings, striking out five while allowing just two hits. No runners advanced to second base on his watch. Woodford would be on regular rest Thursday.

“We'll see,” Shildt said. “We’ll just see.”