OK, so Jack’s back.
Or is he?
One failed… and hopefully many more.
But only better.
There are multiple ways to look at Jack Flaherty’s first start of the 2022 season.
1. For some, it was an alarming mess These included a 31-pitch first inning and a 50-pitch count through two innings. The ferocity consumed most of the given 60 pitch limit. Flaherty allowed three hits and four runs, with two of the runs unearned. He walked two, batted two and made a frantic throwing error on a bunt that accounted for one of the two unearned runs. When Flaherty left the game, the Cardinals were 4-1 down to the Pirates and would go on to lose 6-4.
2. Was that surprising? The first inning with 31 pitches was amazing, 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 following an extensive shoulder rehab and his lengthy major league layoff. Anything was possible. Flaherty was too called, and that’s understandable given his first MLB start since Sept. 24. He had accumulated a lot of pent-up frustration, and now that he was back on the hill, he wanted to let go. Flaherty was overloaded with energy, emotion, intensity, fear. They call it. Flaherty was wired…too wired, 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).”
+ “Honestly, that’s about as bubbly as I was. I had to catch my breath and slow down.”
+ “I don’t know why, how or what, because I usually keep that (tremor) pretty well under wraps and I don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve pitched in playoff games before, and I’ve pitched in front of big crowds. But it was one of those ones that made me think, ‘Slow down a little!’ ”
Flaherty didn’t apologize. Not at all. He was just very honest when he spoke about his over the top adrenaline rush and the problems it caused.
As Flaherty said, “There is no ‘part of the process’ in any of this. When I come out and pitch, I want to pitch well. There’s no ‘Well, you’ve pitched and it’s the first (launch)… No! You felt good the whole time and you want to serve well and not have a bad first inning like me.”
3. Did the cardinals bring him back too soon? Flaherty made only two minor league rehab starts and worked a total of six innings with a strict pitch count cap. At Wednesday’s start, Flaherty’s fastball speed dropped as he prevailed. In the first inning, 12 of his 16 four-seam fastballs exceeded 94 mph and 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 his best inning by far, as Flaherty needed just 10 pitches to make three straight ground outs. But by then he’d settled down, and the slower speed of his fastballs probably helped. The Pirates didn’t adjust to the drop in speed and Flaherty hit his points. That said… Yes, I think some concerns are warranted. We’ll learn a lot more when Flaherty starts the season for the second time next week in Milwaukee.
4) Flaherty persuaded manager Oli Marmol to let him start against the Pirates rather than fielding a third rehab start in the minor league. Marmol agreed. We can argue why this was a wrong decision, but I’d rather put it this way: I’d rather have Flaherty make his first start against the Pirates in a series the Cardinals had already won. Why? Because I’d rather have Flaherty get his heartache out of his system before the start in Milwaukee. That should put Flaherty at ease and get him started on the normal cycle of preparation for his next assignment. Given the frenzied nature of his first start in 2022, it’s okay that he got it out of the way before facing the Brewers.
5) In the future, Flaherty must be 100 percent transparent about how his shoulder feels. In an excellent article by The Athletic’s Katie Woo – a lengthy story about Flaherty’s agony dealing with injuries and his long absence from competition – the pitcher revealed something.
“It was funny, a lot of things that were said like I always get hurt or this or that,” he told Woo. “I’ve never had any kind of injury. I had an unusual injury, was trying to recover from it, and then started doing things a little sideways. My shoulder started barking and I threw myself through. That was a learning moment. I probably shouldn’t have done that and should have made sure I was right. I didn’t really have to do any of those starts, which is my fault. i said i was good It was not me.”
This can’t happen again. Flaherty can’t tell the medical staff, coaches and his manager that he feels fantastic and is ready to go if he doesn’t. I get it; Flaherty was keen to compete and help his team. But this kind of deception can only lead to more trouble and another injury. And while it’s admirable to want to be there for your teammates, you probably won’t increase your chances of winning by sneaking up limited-effectiveness injuries.
The Cardinals need Flaherty. They need it because Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson have combined 2.89 ERAs in their 37 starts this season — and other STL pitchers starting games this season have a combined 5.94 ERA. If Flaherty can settle in and throw well, he will give the rotation a much stronger foundation. But if he has to retire back to the IL, the St. Louis rotation will be scrambling amid the chaos.
This talented and tough right-hander means a lot to his team in 2022.
Thank you for reading …
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All statistics used herein are from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the past 35 years, Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened and connected with generations of sports fans in St. Louis.
While best known for his voice as a senior sports columnist at 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 DC
Bernie, his wife Kirsten, and their cats live in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.