Jack Flaherty’s aggravation of his shoulder injury hints at a larger issue regarding how the St. Louis Cardinals handle injuries and rehab.
When St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty returned from his shoulder injury on June 15, fans had every reason to assume that the issue was behind him. But after pitching a total of eight innings in three unimpressive starts, Flaherty departed from a game with an injury once again, with the team citing a “dead arm.” The Cardinals subsequently placed him on the 15-day injured list with a shoulder strain. The recovery process will start anew, but there could be a fundamental flaw in how the Cardinals are approaching it.
Players who are hurt generally want to get back to action as quickly as possible. That’s a good thing. They want to get back to work and help their teams win. But sometimes this passion for getting back on the field comes at the detriment of a player’s long-term health.
Flaherty was originally slated to have two more rehab appearances, but according to a tweet from Ben Frederickson, his desire to return to big league action led the Cardinals to cut his rehab short. It’s a questionable decision given where the team is at this point in the season.
The National League Central is the weakest division in baseball. The Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers are the only teams in it reasonably competing this year, and with the third Wild Card team in the fold, the Cardinals have a very good chance to make the postseason. They could have afforded to be a bit more cautious with Flaherty and let him make two more rehab starts. It’s possible that he would have hurt his arm again regardless, but with the pitch count limits that would have been imposed, the extra ramping up might have been what he needed.
According to President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ willingness to rush Flaherty back to the major leagues was at least partially based on the fact that Flaherty was telling the club he was good to go and that he felt fine. However, Mozeliak’s quote that it’s “not [the front office’s] decision” when a player comes back seems questionable at best. The front office makes the final decision when it comes to activating a player from the injured list, and Mozeliak’s statement appears to be an attempt to place all the blame on Flaherty.
But while the front office likely made a mistake in activating him, Flaherty’s insistence didn’t help matters. That illustrates a larger issue, not just with the Cardinals, but with baseball as a whole: Players seem urged to “tough it out” and always say they’re feeling fine even if they need a few more days.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned here: First, the Cardinals need to look at the bigger picture when evaluating when a player should return from his injury. They should see where they are and where the league is and balance the risk versus the reward.
But on a grander scale, teams need to look at how they approach injuries. It’s impossible for fans to know how much pain a player might be enduring when he’s on the field, and I’m sure they play through bumps and bruises on a daily basis, but the pressure among teammates and oneself to play through pain and rush through the recovery process is not conducive to a healthy baseball career.