JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- As far as starting things off on the right foot, Jack Flaherty couldn’t have done much better.
The 22-year-old prospect was tapped to start the Cardinals Grapefruit League opener, and responded with two sterling innings.
“You always want to go out and set the tone if you’re the first guy to go, so it was good to get things going that way,” Flaherty said afterward.
It was quite the tone to set.
He commanded the game for two innings, facing the minimum of six hitters. Two of those he struck out, and no one else managed to get a ball out of the infield.
Flaherty was so efficient he actually had 14 pitches left on his limit, but given the success of the start, the manager decided to pull him on a high note.
“He was out there working very early. He was playing a lot of catch. He got plenty of work in today,” Mike Matheny said. “It was a good day. Get that second clean [inning] in and then get him out.”
Flaherty tore through the minor leagues last year, rising from Double-A to Triple-A in just two months and making his MLB debut on September 1. His rapid ascension was fueled by a polished four-pitch arsenal over which he possesses uncommon command for a pitcher his age.
Friday he showed off his offseason work, impressing observers with significantly increased movement on his fastball.
“His fastball was moving a lot,” Yadier Molina, who caught Flaherty in the exhibition opener, said. “I don’t remember that from last year.”
“I don’t remember that much movement either,” Matheny added. “I know it was something he was talking about wanting to add, but it was really about location and good breaking stuff. That kind of movement is going to be huge for him.”
Flaherty said he worked on playing with the fastball movement over the winter, putting different levels of pressure on the ball from certain fingers. Perhaps most impressive was the fact such a young arm demonstrated so many positive things after only facing live hitting once before his first game.
Due to the compressed spring schedule in 2018, several pitchers will only face hitters in practice once before their game starts arrive. The regular season starts earlier this year, a product of an effort in the CBA to get more off days for teams. The byproduct is less prep time before spring games begin, and for a young prospect like Flaherty, less lead time could present a challenge.
But he seems to have matured as fast as he rose through the system, and looked like he’d been ready for weeks.
“[The shortened schedule] just makes the offseason preparation that much more important,” he said.
Even with such a successful first impression, the California native spoke like a much more experienced pitcher before heading to his car. He’s slated to start Wednesday in Sarasota, and plans plenty of introspection between now and then.
“I’ll go and I will reflect more on [the start], and then I’ll come away with some things I want to do better,” he said.
Maybe next time no one will reach the infield grass.