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Shoulder strain puts Flaherty back on IL, forces Cardinals to 'weigh heavily' his 2022 readiness over 2021 return

Shoulder strain puts Flaherty back on IL, forces Cardinals to 'weigh heavily' his 2022 readiness over 2021 return

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Detroit Tigers vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (left) looks over as starting pitcher Jack Flaherty walks off the field with the trainer after he was pulled from the game in the third inning during a game between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Before the Cardinals will consider what contribution, if any, Jack Flaherty can make later in this season they’ll discuss whether it could jeopardize his readiness for 2022.

The Cardinals’ opening day starter went through a battery of exams Wednesday morning to determine a strained right shoulder inhibited him Tuesday night. Flaherty was placed on the 10-day injured list and prescribed rest. If he requires several weeks to recover and needs several more to build arm strength, the six weeks left on the schedule could quickly run out. The long-term vibrancy, sustainability and success of Flaherty’s career becomes a guiding factor regardless of the impact his possible return could mean for the short-term.

“Fingers crossed that at some point he can help us this year, but most important make sure he’s sound and ready to go for 2022,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “I think (the future) will be weighed heavily. We’ve not going to put him out there if we think it’s going to have any chance of setting him backward. Allowing him to feel healthy and finish the year strong will be great. Giving the amount of time missed you have to look at the long view over the short view for sure.”

The Cardinals see Kwang Hyun Kim as a handy candidate to replace Flaherty in the rotation when his spot comes up on Sunday in Pittsburgh. He pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief Tuesday and, depending on need in the coming days, will be ready to handle more Sunday.

Initial scans and exams of Flaherty’s right shoulder did not show any disconcerting structural damage, manager Mike Shildt said. He called the first view from the team doctors “favorable.” That is said from the reference point of the integrity of the shoulder, not necessarily the speed of the 25-year-old righthander’s return.

The righthander missed 2½ months due to a torn oblique muscle, returned to start two games, and then felt tightness seize his right arm Tuesday night. His velocity dropped and he allowed back-to-back homers before leaving the game. Mozeliak said the trainers have not tied the shoulder issue to the oblique injury. The team will trace the injury to see if an area connecting the two was compromised.

“Haven’t had anyone connect those dots,” Mozeliak said. “Sometimes when you’re just not throwing in a normal regimen stiffness and tightness can occur, and that typically leads to a strain. Unfortunately, that’s what we’re dealing with.”

How Flaherty recovers in the coming days will determine the next step.

How the Cardinals balance two times on the injured list this season and consecutive seasons now with limited innings along with his potential future will decide his next appearance. That future influenced how quickly he was pulled from the present Tuesday.

“Didn’t look quite right,” Shildt said. “He said he was OK, could keep going. Didn’t make sense. Let’s get you out. Like anything in this industry you want to have a sense of urgency in the moment, but you also have to have an eye on the future. It’s the blend of both.”

Helsley out for season; Hicks maybe, too

Ryan Helsley, on the injured list with a stress reaction in his right elbow, will have arthroscopic surgery to address an issue in his left knee and likely shift his force to being rested and ready for the 2022 season, Cardinals officials detailed Wednesday. The soreness in his elbow made a return this season “a long shot,” Mozeliak said.

The downtime for the arm offered a good time to address the knee.

The days melting off the calendar are also likely to mean the Cardinals will have to find games for Jordan Hicks this fall somewhere other than the majors or minors. One possibility for the Cardinals and Hicks could be the Arizona Fall League, depending on the criteria Major League Baseball establishes for the restart of the elite-prospect league. Hicks (elbow) has been throwing in St. Louis and could face hitters soon, but Mozeliak noted: “I just feel like we’re running out of time on Jordan. Rushing him to just get into a game might not make the most sense.”

#Join4Joe Drive announced

With help from Be the Match, the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and Cardinals will host the sixth annual “#Join4Joe” event Sept. 8 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. At Busch Stadium or before going to the ballpark, fans can sign up to join the national registry and expand the chances of finding a donor match for people awaiting blood stem cell transplants.

The writers and Cardinals started the event to honor Post-Dispatch sports columnist and longtime baseball writer Joe Strauss, who died in December 2015 from leukemia.

Tickets can be purchased for the game at cardinals.com/join4joe with $5 from each ticket sold going as a donation to Be the Match and patient services. There will also be tables at the ballpark during the game to help people register to be potential donors.

O’Neill improves

Tyler O’Neill (sore lower back) appeared as a pinch-hitter late Wednesday, hinting that discomfort that’s kept him out of the lineup for two days had relieved enough for him to return as soon as Thursday for the start of a four-game series in Pittsburgh. O’Neill stopped awkwardly as he slipped near first base on a groundout Wednesday, but the appearance meant an improvement from Tuesday when he was unavailable. “See how he travels,” Shildt said. … To take Flaherty’s spot on the active roster, the Cardinals returned righthander Junior Fernandez to the bullpen. … Nick Plummer, a former first-round pick who has had a breakout summer in the minors, made his Class AAA debut this week. The outfielder drew a walk, scored a run in the game. Plummer, 25, forced the promotion with a .571 on-base percentage last week at Double-A Springfield with two homers, three steals, and a 1.405 OPS. For the S-Cards, Plummer had an .893 OPS to go with a .404 OBP, one of the highest in the league. … MLB Pipeline ranked Nolan Gorman as the top second base prospect in the minors. Second base is a new position to Gorman, who was drafted as a third baseman but has moved this season after the acquisition of Nolan Arenado.

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