I don’t believe that Jack Flaherty’s Game 5 workload rises to the level of controversy, but the subject is worthy of scrutiny. It’s an interesting baseball discussion.
I was fine with the St. Louis ace, Flaherty, going ahead to pitch after the Cardinals gave him a 10-0 lead in the top of the first inning in NLDS Game 5 at Atlanta. Flaherty had done all his prep between starts, had warmed up, and was physically and mentally dialed in for a high-stakes start.
The idea of scratching him from this appointment in Atlanta in order to pitch in Game 1 or 2 of the NLCS seemed rash to me.
Besides Jack’s mother traveled to Atlanta from Los Angeles to be there at the game, for her son. And that shouldn’t be dismissed as pablum. If you know anything at all about Jack and his mom, and his incredible loyalty and devotion to her, this is nothing to sneer at. Flaherty would have been wounded by getting removed from a critical game before he had a chance to get after the Braves.
The horse was ready to race, so let him run.
Flaherty wasn’t going to make more than two starts in the NLCS, anyway.
And that didn’t change just because he started Game 5 in Atlanta.
But in texting and emailing with friends about this topic during the top of the first inning, we agreed on this much: Flaherty shouldn’t pitch past the fifth inning.
I was in favor of lifting him after four — but no more than five — depending his level of required effort. The intensity of his pitches. The number of high-leverage pitches.
(1) Why expose him to a fluke, freak injury? Yeah, that could have happened early in the game, before the fifth inning. But that’s irrelevant to my point; again, I disagreed with the idea of parking Flaherty after the top of the first — without pitching — in Game 5. And there was no chance of manager Mike Shildt taking such action, anyway. So why debate something that was never a realistic consideration, not for a second of time? It was OK to let this pitcher pitch … but only to a point.
(2) Flaherty plunked Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. in the bottom of the fifth. It seemed like an obvious purpose pitch — payback for Acuna agitating the Cardinals with his showboating and posturing during the series. Acuna, of course, took exception. But you undoubtedly noticed that Acuna decided it was best to avoid going to the mound to confront a glaring Flaherty. Smart young man.
That hit-by-pitch put a target on Flaherty, who surprisingly came up to bat in the top of the sixth, soon after buzzing and striking Acuna.
Braves manager Brian Snitker is a class act, and wasn’t about to order a pitcher to retaliate. But pitchers do things on their own. Pitchers feel obligated to defend teammates, even if no one implores them to exact revenge.
If Flaherty had been drilled with a fastball to the jaw or side of the head, what would we be thinking or saying today? Flaherty was left vulnerable there. And needlessly so.
(3) Save the pitches. Flaherty, who turns 24 on Oct. 15, threw 182.2 innings last season (minors and majors) as a rookie last season. This year, including the postseason, he’s up to 209.1 innings. Flaherty threw 117 pitches in Game 2 of the NLDS, and reached 104 pitches in Game 5 before Shildt went to the bullpen at the start of the sixth. Flaherty later said that the plan was to call it a night after five innings — but the pitcher talked the manager into going one more inning.
Flaherty didn’t have an easy fifth inning; the Braves loaded the bases and didn’t score but made Flaherty throw 28 pitches. That’s a lot. And his fourth-fifth inning combined total was 47 pitches. So why not get him out of there after five? There was absolutely nothing left for Flaherty to prove. And the Cardinals’ lead was extremely safe.
Of course Flaherty wanted to go one more inning; what would we expect him to say? But managers are in charge and have to tell players “sorry, but no,” at times.
In the end, it may not have mattered much. I guess we’ll see later on in the postseason as the innings roll up on Flaherty.
Flaherty went six innings, reached 104 pitches (making it 221 pitches in his two NLDS starts) and rested comfortably as the Cardinals whomped the Braves 13-1 to move onto the NLCS clash with Washington.
Will Flaherty show signs of fatigue?
There’s no way of knowing until we see him pitch again … and again. He’ll make as many as four starts, total, if the Cardinals advance to the World Series and have that series go the full seven games.
But in fairness to Shildt that one extra inning, the sixth, required only 10 pitches from Flaherty.
Those 10 extra pitches won’t impact the quality of Flaherty’s work during his next time out.
The overall accumulation of pitches is the concern.
The Cardinals enjoyed a second win on Wednesday night when the Nationals came back to upset the Dodgers in 10 innings, capturing the NLDS in the winner-claims-the-prize Game 5.
That was a victory for the Cardinals because they now have homefield advantage in the NLCS. The first two games are set for St. Louis on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
The Cardinals can open with Miles Mikolas in Game 1. (He’s very good at home.) They will go with Adam Wainwright in Game 2. (He’s great at home.) And by holding Waino until Game 2, it means he’ll get a home start again (Game 6) instead of having to make a road start in Washington in Game 5. Dakota Hudson can handle Game 5.
And Flaherty is the ideal choice for a Game 3 start (at full rest) at Washington. He’s also in line to start Game 7 if there is a G7; he’d be on normal rest for that potential winner-take-all showdown.
Just eat your vegetables, Jack.
Thanks for reading …