With Flaherty shelved again, would Cardinals go back and change anything about his expedited return to St. Louis?

“I wouldn’t change anything,” Flaherty said about a decision-making process that he feels was handled properly by all parties involved.
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty winds up during the first inning of the...
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty winds up during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)(Scott Kane | AP)
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 1:08 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty didn’t see any value in playing the blame game on Monday following the news of his second trip of the season to the injured list for a sore pitching shoulder.

The circumstances surrounding the recurrence of problems inside his right shoulder are unfortunate. Flaherty got to spring training in March and began having conversations with the team and its medical personnel that were previously forbidden because of the owners’ lockout that permeated the sport over the long winter.

As had been the case down the stretch of the 2021 season, Flaherty was dealing with shoulder discomfort in the spring. That resulted in a PRP injection and several months in a meticulously-planned training regimen to strengthen the muscles in his shoulder. The goal? Prevent future injury.

But three starts after he arrived in St. Louis to face the Pirates on June 15 following just two minor-league rehab starts, Flaherty is back where he started the year⁠—on the injured list because of that same shoulder.

Flaherty didn’t look right in any of his three outings for the Cardinals over the past two weeks, allowing six runs, five earned while walking more batters (nine) than innings pitched (eight). After two more laborious innings on Sunday, Flaherty was removed from the game.

The perception of dissonance between the Cardinals’ carefully-crafted blueprint for Flaherty’s rehab over the prior months and their willingness to rush him back after just seven affiliated innings is certainly worthy of exploration. But meeting with reporters Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium, the guy whose shoulder upon whom everyone and their brother seems to have an opinion said that he doesn’t have any regrets about rejoining the St. Louis rotation as quickly as he did.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” Flaherty said. “I don’t know what you guys are looking for. You guys are obviously going to look for somebody to blame. That’s what you guys have to do. But why would we go changing anything?

“Everything felt great. We did everything the right way. Training staff did everything the right way. Organization did everything the right way. I wouldn’t go changing anything. It’s unfortunate what’s happened but we did everything right. We were honest with each other through the whole process.”

Flaherty was diplomatic Monday, but a couple of weeks ago, he was blunt on the subject of where he wanted to be pitching on the evening of June 15: St. Louis. Though he had been successful in a stop at Double-A Springfield and one at Triple-A Memphis⁠—combining for seven innings of one-hit, one-run baseball⁠—Flaherty had maxed out at 59 pitches in his most recent outing.

Hoping to see him work up to a more substantial starter’s pitch count, the Cardinals had originally planned for Flaherty to throw one more rehab game in Triple-A before discussing his MLB return. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol went as far as to declare that as the official action plan days prior to the about-face that saw Flaherty in St. Louis to take on Pittsburgh on that Wednesday.

It’s unknown what exact dialogue took place in the conversations between Flaherty and team decision-makers that week to lead to the sudden shift. Even knowing the setback that has followed, Flaherty said he wouldn’t change a thing. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak’s musings on the topic Monday, meanwhile, gave off somewhat of a different impression.

“A lot of it’s based on the feedback you’re getting from the athlete,” Mozeliak said, referencing a fact that had been well-established in recent weeks. After a lengthy rehab phase, Flaherty felt he was ready to take the next step, telling the team ahead of June 15 that he preferred the increased intensity of a big-league environment over continuing to stretch his pitch count in Memphis.

“At that point, he was very optimistic of where he was,” Mozeliak continued. “Internally, we debated that. But ultimately, it’s not our decision.”

Mozeliak sounded like a man who might make use in this instance of a time machine if he had one.

“We laid out a plan. The plan was deviated. And here we are.”

Though it’s true that a team cannot force a player to accept a rehab assignment, Mozeliak and the Cardinals’ front office ultimately was responsible for executing the final decision to bring Flaherty up when it happened; a pitcher can’t activate himself from the IL.

As tricky as navigating alternatives might have been for the Cardinals in a situation where a big-name player was insistent on a route that didn’t align with the team’s plans for him, the team could have flexed its authority over the situation if it had wanted to do so.

It’s conceivable, though, that the team genuinely didn’t see anything wrong with the change in plans at the time. Flaherty really did look strong in his rehab appearances. The Cardinals really did have a need in a rotation that had been scuffling at the time. If you’ve got 60 pitches of Jack Flaherty at your disposal, there was a savvy argument to be made that using those pitches at the Major League level would have been more beneficial than wasting them at Triple-A.

But if that’s not how the Cardinals viewed it in their heart of hearts, they should have braced for a conversation with Flaherty and quietly come up with a compromise on how to proceed.

What they did was publicly express that everybody was on the same page⁠—that the team had faith in Flaherty’s self-professed readiness. Unleashing the “ultimately, it’s not our decision” rhetoric after the benefit of hindsight isn’t a productive approach to discussing a move that couldn’t have taken place without Mozeliak’s rubber stamp of approval.