Cardinals: Mike Shildt hints Jack Flaherty could return Friday

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Jack Flaherty (22) pitches during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jack Flaherty (22) pitches during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt hinted that Jack Flaherty could return Friday.

When Jack Flaherty was placed on the injured list for a second time, the expectation was that the St. Louis Cardinals rotation would crater. Instead, on the back of Adam Wainwright’s dominant performance in his age-40 season, they have won nine straight games and are likely headed to the postseason.

And Flaherty might be close to returning.

When Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked manager Mike Shildt if Flaherty could be used as an opener on Friday, he declined comment but “his kid on Christmas Eve smile said enough.”

The question was posed after Flaherty threw to hitters in Milwaukee. His potential return would be a massive boost for a Cardinals team that is already surging and will only help them on and off the field, with players previously noting that they felt gutted when he suffered his first and second injuries. This time, he’d be back for good, and return to a team firmly in a postseason race.

Flaherty, however, would not be returning as the team’s ace. His arm simply is not built up enough for that. He figures to pitch in The Opener role mentioned above, pitching in 1-2 and potentially three inning stints to begin games. Having Flaherty return, even in that capacity, would be monumental for the Cardinals. After all, he was on pace for a career-best season — 9-2, 3.08 ERA, 81/24 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and was on pace to be squarely in the Cy Young discussion.

The injuries prevented Flaherty from ever being in that discussion in the last few months. But if the Cardinals do win the second wild card spot, securing a matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants, his return could allow Shildt to get creative. Wainwright is likely to start the game, but if St. Louis has the lead in the sixth or seventh inning, Shildt could bring Flaherty in to 1) pitch a high-leverage inning or 2) even finish the game.

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Before we get into the hypothetical games, Flaherty needs to come out of the live throwing session feeling healthy. If he does, however, Shildt’s smile indicates his return could be right around the corner.

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