OK, so Jack’s back.
Or is he?
One down … and hopefully, many more to go.
But only better.
There are multiple ways of looking at Jack Flaherty’s first start of the 2022 season.
1. To some it was an alarming helter-skelter showing that included a 31-pitch first inning and a 50-pitch count through two innings. The wildness consumed most of the predetermined 60-pitch limit. Flaherty allowed three hits and four runs, with two of the runs unearned. He walked two, struck out two and made a frantic throwing error on a bunt that accounted for one of the two unearned runs. As Flaherty left the game, the Cardinals were down 4-1 to the Pirates and would go on to lose 6-4.
2. Was this surprising? The 31-pitch first inning was startling, yes. But we shouldn’t have been surprised by his overall performance. As I wrote Wednesday afternoon, we didn’t know what to expect from Flaherty after an extensive shoulder rehab and his long major-league layoff. Anything was possible. Flaherty was too dialed up, and that’s understandable given that he was making first MLB start since since last Sept. 24. He had a lot of pent-up frustration stored up, and now that he was back on the mound he wanted to let loose. Flaherty was overloaded with energy, emotion, intensity, anxiety. You name it. Flaherty was wired … too wired as he said after the game.
Among Flaherty’s postgame comments:
+ “I came out and it was like I was trying to throw the ball through Yadi (Molina.)”
+ “That’s about as juiced up as I’ve been, honestly. I had to catch my breath and slow down there.”
+ “I don’t know why, how or what, because I usually keep that (jitters) under wraps pretty well don’t know where it came from. I’ve pitched in playoff games before and I’ve pitched in big settings. But it was one of those where I was like, ‘Slow down a little bit!’ ”
Flaherty wasn’t making excuses. Not at all. He was just being very honest about discussing his over-the-top adrenaline rush and the problems that it caused.
As Flaherty said, “There is no ‘part of the process’ to any of this. If I come out and pitch, I want to pitch well. There’s no, ‘Well, you pitched and it’s the first (start) … No! You’ve felt good this whole time and you want to pitch well and not have a bad first inning like I did.”
3. Did the Cardinals bring him back too soon? Flaherty made only two minor-league rehab starts, working a total of six innings with a strict pitch-count cap. In Wednesday’s start, Flaherty’s fastball velocity dropped as he pushed through. In the first inning 12 of his 16 four-seam fastballs clocked in at 94+ miles per hour with a top speed of 95.2. In the third inning his six four-seam fastballs averaged 90.4 mph, with a low of 87.9. But the third inning was easily his best inning, with Flaherty needing just 10 pitches to get three consecutive ground-outs. But by then he had calmed down, and the slower rate of speed on his fastballs probably helped him. The Pirates didn’t adjust to the drop in velocity, and Flaherty was hitting his spots. That said … Yes, I think some concern is warranted. We’ll learn a lot more when Flaherty makes his second start of the season next week at Milwaukee.
4) Flaherty talked manager Oli Marmol into letting him make the start against the Pirates instead of pitching a third minor-league rehab start. Marmol consented. We can make a case why this was a wrong decision, but I prefer to look at it another way: I’d rather have Flaherty make his first start against the Pirates in a series the Cardinals already had won. Why? Because I’d rather have Flaherty get his distress out of his system in advance of the start at Milwaukee. That should calm Flaherty down and ease him into the normal preparation cycle for his next outing. Considering the frenzied nature of his first start of 2022, it’s fine that he got it out of the way before facing the Brewers.
5) Going forward, Flaherty must be 100 percent transparent about how his shoulder is feeling. In an excellent piece written by Katie Woo at The Athletic – a deep-dive story on Flaherty’s torment in dealing with injuries and his extended absence from competition – the pitcher revealed something.
“It’s been funny, a lot of things that get said that I’m always being hurt or this or that,” he told Woo. “I’ve never had any type of injury. I had a freak injury, tried to come back from it and then started doing things a little sideways. My shoulder started barking up and I pitched through it. That was a learning moment. I probably shouldn’t have done that and should’ve made sure I was right. I didn’t really need to make one of those starts, which is my fault. I said I was good. I wasn’t.”
That can’t happen again. Flaherty can’t tell the medical staff, trainers and his manager that he feels fantastic and is ready to go when it’s not true. I get it; Flaherty desperately wanted to compete and help his team. But that type of deception can only lead to more trouble, and another injury. And while wanting to be in there for your teammates is admirable, you probably won’t enhance the chances of winning by secretly pitching hurt at limited effectiveness.
The Cardinals need Flaherty. They need him because Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson have combined for a 2.89 ERA this season in their 37 starts — and other STL pitchers to start games this season have a combined 5.94 ERA. If Flaherty can settle in and pitch well, he’ll give the rotation a much stronger foundation. But if he must retreat to the IL again, the St. Louis rotation will be scrambling amid the chaos.
This talented and tough righthander means an awful lot to his team’s fortunes in 2022.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.