Flaherty dominant before back tightness causes exit after 5th

Right-hander confident he won't miss a start

June 5th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- Jack Flaherty grew up in Southern California as a big Lakers fan. He has seen plenty of examples of stars playing through pain. So his answer wasn’t surprising after the Tigers right-hander cautiously lowered himself into his chair in the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Field on Tuesday night, his back wrapped and iced after five scoreless innings in a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, having found a comfortable position in the chair.

The way Flaherty is pitching, his back might be his toughest opponent. He isn’t giving hitters much hope.

Five days after Flaherty took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Boston, he retired his first nine batters Tuesday, allowed two singles over five innings and didn’t allow a Ranger past first base. He had faced one batter over the minimum thanks to a Wyatt Langford double play ending the fifth inning on just his 60th pitch of the night.

All along, though, he was pitching however long his back would allow. And as he walked back to the dugout at the end of the fifth, his back -- along with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch -- decided it was enough.

“It was [bothering me] a little bit pregame,” Flaherty said, noting his back had locked up, “but it was just one of those things, see how you can go. Keep going, keep making pitches, keep executing. And when it gets to a certain point … we had a conversation. It was more precautionary than anything. It just got to a point where it probably wasn’t a good idea.”

Said Hinch: “We just decided to go in a different direction and give him more early treatment. … Jack gave us what he could and then we picked up the rest.”

Flaherty felt it particularly as he tried to finish his pitches, which probably explains his drop in velocity. He was around one mile per hour off his season average for all of his pitches, and his fastball was around 92-93 mph for his final couple innings. Still, his 29 heaters drew four swinging strikes and five called. He threw more curveballs than usual, drawing four more swinging strikes in 15 pitches, but said that was part of the game plan.

It was game management more than pain management, but there was certainly a bit of the latter.

“I’ve pitched through a lot of things,” Flaherty said. “For me to ever come out of a game, it’s usually been a lot of pain. I’ve gone through a lot when I was younger. I’ve gone through a lot over the last handful of years. It’s just certain things, you have to understand where the game’s at and how you’re feeling and where you get to a certain point that it becomes detrimental. Go out and make pitches until it doesn’t feel right.”

The line score will look like more of the same. Flaherty tossed 11 2/3 scoreless innings on three hits over two starts on this road trip, accounting for two of the Tigers’ four victories while lowering his ERA from 4.91 to 3.22. With four strikeouts, he pushed his season total to 94, the most by a Tigers pitcher in his first 12 outings for the franchise, eclipsing the 87 David Price posted in his first 12 outings following his Trade Deadline deal in 2014. He has walked two batters over his past three starts, covering 18 innings, and has a 94-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His latest gem allowed the Tigers to leverage two home runs into a victory for a second straight night. Zach McKinstry, who was 5-for-11 for his career off Rangers starter Dane Dunning entering the game, added to that when he turned on a cutter inside and sent it out on a line over the right-field fence for a two-run homer. Riley Greene turned on a slider in the fifth inning for his 11th homer.

The Tigers have won three in a row to move over .500 for the first time since May 18. They also clinched a winning record on this seven-game road trip. Now they’ll wait and see how Flaherty feels heading into his next start next week at home.

“I’m sure I’ll be good for the next one,” Flaherty said. “It works out that I have two extra days with the two [scheduled] off-days. We’ll see how I wake up tomorrow, but I feel pretty good about it.”