Monday is Labor Day, a holiday for many. But not for Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty, a day of work he has looked forward to for much of the summer.
Flaherty, with his second rehabilitation — a lengthy one — for his troublesome right shoulder behind him, will make his fourth start of the season for the Cardinals on Monday against Washington. It will be his first start since June 26.
“It will be exciting,” he said Friday night, comparing it to opening day. “Opening day, round two.”
Actually, it might be opening day, round three, but Flaherty was not active for the actual April 7 opener.
Flaherty hiked his pitch count to 102 in his final of five rehab starts when he pitched for Class AA Springfield on Wednesday and then had to buy yet another postgame spread for the minor leaguers as big leaguers are supposed to do when they’re on temporary minor league assignments.
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He hadn’t thrown 102 pitches in a game since May 16, 2021, when he threw 105 in six innings against Pittsburgh in his eighth consecutive win, an 8-5 triumph. He rejoins a team now which has built a big cushion in the National League Central Division race.
“Everybody’s done a really good job,” Flaherty said. “It’s been fun to watch but it will more fun to a part of.”
Flaherty called the Cardinals’ 22-7 August “relentless. Last year, winning 17 straight was fun and all but there’s a type of relentlessness that’s going on, no matter the situation we get into. Everybody’s contributing. Everybody’s doing something.”
Flaherty made two rehab starts to open his season in June but that portion of the season ended after three major league starts in which he pitched just eight innings, walking nine while giving up five earned runs.
On this more extended rehab stint, he said, “It was a different challenge each and every day of ‘What can we get better at today? What can we get better at tomorrow?’
“We’re in a really good spot right now.”
Third baseman Nolan Arenado says the Cardinals are in a better spot now, too. “When we know Jack is Jack, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” said Arenado. “That’s what we’re bringing back — one of the best pitchers in the game.”
Hudson headed to bullpen
Flaherty will be taking the start of inconsistent Dakota Hudson, who will be headed to the bullpen and be available from there beginning on Saturday, manager Oliver Marmol said. Following Flaherty in the four-game Washington series will be lefthander Jose Quintana, lefthander Jordan Montgomery and right-hander Adam Wainwright, with Miles Mikolas to open at Pittsburgh, followed by Flaherty.
The Sept. 11 start at Pittsburgh technically is open although it would fall on Quintana’s turn. Marmol said he might work the rotation so that Hudson would be available for one game of a day-night doubleheader on Sept. 17 here against Cincinnati.
Arenado is Player of the Month — again
Arenado, out-polling teammates Paul Goldschmidt, Albert Pujols and Lars Nootbaar, won the National League Player of the Month award for the second time this season, following up his honor in April.
Arenado hit .364 in August with nine homers and 29 runs batted in and slugged .729.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Arenado. “It’s awesome. There’s so many great players in the game.”
The Cardinals have won three of the five Player of the Month awards this season, with Goldshmidt capturing the May award.
The other Cardinals to have two Player of the Month awards in the same season are Pujols (2009), Mark McGwire (1998) and late Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in his magical pitching season of 1968.
Pujols out of the lineup but will be back Saturday
Pujols, the people’s choice, sat out the start on Friday against Chicago right-hander Adrian Sampson, but will be back in the lineup Saturday against left-hander Drew Smyly, who recently held the Cardinals to one run in seven innings in a 1-0 loss to Montgomery.
Marmol said he was among the many who hopes that Pujols will hit the 700-homer plateau and joked he had received threats from people in the native Dominican Republic. He is of Dominican heritage himself.
“I’ve never received so many messages in Spanish,” said Marmol of the Pujols boosters. “I’m sure I can’t visit the D.R. anymore. Unless, he hits 700. Then I can spend two weeks. As of right now, I’m not allowed.
“I’ve been called everything in two languages now,” cracked Marmol.
“It’s always in the back of your mind. You want to give him a chance to get to 700. I’m no different than anybody in those seats tonight, trust me. One night I want to see it happen, too.
“Matching him up against the righties and, every lefty, is what we’ll do, moving forward.”
Carlson again on sidelines
Marmol again sat switch-hitting Dylan Carlson against a right-hander but will be using Carlson and shortstop Paul DeJong, who likewise is slumping, against left-handers. Marmol said he could see Carlson returning to regular duty at some point but added, “Our roster is built really well right now. We have an answer for a right-hander. We have an answer for a left-hander. And we have answers off the bench. So it’s tough to change that, just for the sake of changing.”
Matz on the march
Left-hander Steven Matz, recovering from a torn ligament in his left knee, dazzled in another bullpen on Friday and is causing Marmol to keep an open mind about employing Matz as a bullpen piece the rest of the way. “He looked really good,” said Marmol, who said he would ponder the next move in concert with Matz — whether that was a batting practice session here or a brief minor league rehab outing.
“What’s coming out of that arm right now is filth,” said Marmol, employing “filth” as a positive term.
But, Marmol cautioned, Matz would have to show he could pitch multiple innings as a reliever, rather than just one inning at a time.
At present, the left-handed side of the bullpen numbers rookie Zack Thompson, who reached 98 miles an hour the other day, and newcomer JoJo Romero, who has given up one bunt single in five innings since coming up from Memphis via Philadelphia.
DeLuzio here for pinch running and defense
Ben DeLuzio was added to the September roster from Memphis, to pinch run and play defense in center field, where Marmol said he is outstanding, just a step down from departed Gold Glover Harrison Bader.
DeLuzio was born in St. Louis but lived here for only a year before his family moved to the Orlando, Florida area. He said he does not remember where he lived although his mother will be visiting this weekend and promises to show him Monday.
“If I’m still here,” he said, laughing.
At 28, DeLuzio will be making his major league debut. He said he does have a picture of himself in a Cardinals’ “onesie.”
“I was a chunky kid,” said DeLuzio.
Joe West, who retired after the 2021 season with the all-time record for games umpired at 5,460, threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches and former Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia tossed another. ... Besides Pujols, Wainwright and Yadier Molina also will be playing Saturday night.