The Cardinals and starting pitching and injuries. It goes something like this …

A couple of guys are sore but it’s OK, everything is fine, nothing to worry about, don’t know why the media is making a fuss over this, we’re just being careful, just holding the pitcher back by a day to be on the safe side, he’s looking great, he’s getting his work in, there’s no need to push it. Injury? What injury? It’s only the normal spring-training grind, building up arm strength, minor inflammation, no reason to think he’ll have to go on the IL, our trainers feel good about it. Velocity? It’s early, it’s the process, he’ll be ready to go when it’s time to go.

How many times have we heard a version of this spin when a St. Louis pitcher has some discomfort – or just needs a little time to build himself up in spring training? I’ve lost track. It happens a lot. And I finally reached the point where I just ignored the spin and started to interpret the lack of candor as a possible warning sign.

I’m skeptical only because of the history of how the Cardinals do this when a pitcher doesn’t pitch, or takes a delay before his next assignment.

1st stage: All good. It’s early in spring training. We’re just giving him a little extra time in between appearances to rebound from his first time out.

2nd stage: Everything is still on track. Just want to take care of some minor inflammation after he ramped up his throwing and pitch counts. We’re not concerned.

3rd stage: Well, his arm hasn’t rebounded the way we were hoping for, so we’re just going to shut him down and see how he responds. We’re not sure if he’ll be ready by Opening Day, but at this point our priority is to take care of this now so we can have him available for virtually the entire season. If he misses the first week or so, no big deal.

4th stage: The latest MRI showed something that was a little “off,” and we think it’s smart to do more tests and let him go get a second opinion.

5th stage: 60-day IL. May need surgery, but we’re not close to making any kind of decision on that. We always prefer to go the surgery route as the last possible resort.

In fairness, the Cardinals are correct in their initial thinking. Sometimes a little spring-training soreness is nothing more than a little spring-training soreness. No harm. But there’s a rhythm to the ritual.

Maybe it’s minor. Maybe it’s major.

Could be nothing. Could be something.

And now …

As if on schedule, we have our first spring-training round of “Is Anything Wrong?” with the pitcher.

Actually, it’s two starting pitchers: Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright.

Let’s take a look at Flaherty

Flaherty pitched 348 innings over the 2018 and 2019 seasons. That’s an average of 174 innings per year. But over the last three seasons, Jack has pitched only 154 innings. That includes 2020, a season shortened by the pandemic. But even if we throw 2020 out, Flaherty averaged only 57 innings of work over the last two years. He’s endured shoulder miseries and a strained oblique.

Flaherty insists he’s feeling great this spring. But the Cardinals and the pitcher Cardinals changed the schedule for his first start; Flaherty threw on the backfields instead. (And he’s been getting his work in, at least for the most part.) Flaherty’s exhibition-season debut was supposed to happen Saturday, but now the assignment has been switched to Sunday. But there’s no alarm.

The Cardinals are calm. Flaherty is calm. But until we see Jack pitching in games against opposing hitters in game conditions down there in Florida – and recovering on time to do it again, and again, and again – I’ll have to take the wait-and-see approach. I sincerely hope Flaherty is fine and that there’s no reason for concern. But let’s see: frequently injured pitcher, already off schedule in spring training, not quite prepared for a full-on pitching test.

Jim Bowden (The Athletic) was at Cardinal camp earlier this week and asked president of baseball operations John Mozeliak about Flaherty’s status. Here’s what Bowden wrote: “Mozeliak was cautious in his comments and reminded me that the right-hander threw only 36 innings last year. Keep your fingers crossed, St. Louis fans.”

We’ll know more about Jack’s Comeback after he makes his first two or three pitching appearances in the Florida game.

OK, now what about Wainwright?

He’s made two starts this spring, covering five total innings. His velocity has dropped again, though Wainwright did push it up a little in his second start.

In the five innings Wainwright yielded eight hits and four earned runs for a 7.20 ERA. According to tracking done by Baseball Reference he faced mostly Double A hitters.

Here’s a report on Wainwright’s Thursday start against the Astros from The Athletic’s Katie Woo:

“The velocity on all five of the pitches in his mix averaged between 3-4 mph slower than their average readings in 2022. In his final inning, Wainwright didn’t touch higher than 85 mph. He was hit hard – four balls hit off him registered exit velocities higher than 104 mph, including a 112.1 mph solo moonshot of a homer off the bat of José Abreu.

“Wainwright threw his sinker, cutter and curveball the most, and the velocity on all three pitches measured a significant drop-off from last season. His sinker averaged 84.9 mph, a 3.7 percent decrease from 2022. His cutter was next, dropping from his 2022 average of 84.3 mph to 80.8 mph, and his curveball decreased from 72.9 mph to 70.2 mph.”

Of course, Wainwright and the Cardinals gave it the “nothing to see here” treatment. They cited various ailments that impacted Waino’s performance.

Leg and glute stiffness that limited his leg drive, the aftereffect of recent back spasms, and a torn finger blister.

“Just to be clear, it’s not an injury deal; it’s about him not syncing his body up correctly, and he didn’t feel like he was getting the leg drive he typically gets,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol said. “After doing some [strength] assessments, it’s something he can solve. This is a veteran, and he knows what he needs to do. Waino’s going to do that whether he’s here or not, and that’s a trust thing that I’m not concerned with.”

Not an injury issue? Even though three different physical problems were cited to explain Wainwright’s plummeting velocity and ineffective pitching?

On one hand, it’s spring training and a lot of pitchers get pounded early in exhibition games as they prepare for the run-up to the regular season. I wouldn’t expect Wainwright to be at his best at this stage.

However, the future Cardinals Hall of Famer is coming off a 2022 season in which he lost velocity, suffered a decline in swing-and-miss stuff and faded to a 17.8 percent strikeout rate. He produced the worst set of metrics in a full season in his career. He had a 4.99 ERA in his last 11 starts in 2022 – including a 7.22 ERA in his final six starts. The contact rate against him on pitches in the strike zone last season – 91 percent – was the highest against him during his 17-season MLB career.

Wainwright attributed the late 2022 freefall to a hitch in his delivery after he’d been struck on the knee by a batted ball. Now his current difficulties are being downplayed because the leg/glute tightness, the back spasms, the finger.

Or could it be that a lot of this is happening because Wainwright is 41 years old and headed to his 42nd birthday on Aug. 30? After posting a 3.84 expected ERA in 2022, that metric jumped to 4.53 last season. He went from having a 3.8 WAR in 2021 to 2.8 WAR last year. But Wainwright still had good value because he supplied 192 innings.

I suppose we’ll get an update after Wainwright returns to camp after competing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He’ll get some work in between now and then, and hopefully that will get him on track.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea for Wainwright to proceed with his WBC plans, but the Cardinals won’t stop him from going. They’ll defer. It’s Wainwright’s final MLB season before retirement, and (mostly) anything goes.

For now, all eyes are on Flaherty and Wainwright. Hey, at least the Cardinals added a proven, quality big-league starting pitcher this past offseason.

(Pardon my sarcasm.)

Thanks for reading …

Have a great weekend …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.




Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.