Fresh and ready, Cards‘ Flaherty builds off rookie season

By CHUCK KING – Associated Press – Monday, March 18, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) – has done the math, and it all adds up. The young St. Louis pitcher is in line to start the Cardinals’ home opener.

“Freakin’ cool,” the 23-year-old said, sporting a huge grin. “To put it as forward as I can, it would be freakin’ sweet.”

Other than announcing Miles Mikolas as the opening day starter March 28 at Milwaukee, manager has yet to make public his starting rotation, nor has he discussed it with .

But with one Grapefruit League start remaining, is in position to make the Cardinals’ second start of the season. And if that schedule plays out as expected, his second turn figures to be the home opener on April 4 against San Diego.

“We know ’s commitment, that’s really evident,” said. “We know is athletic, that’s on display. We know ’s got all the pitches. We know competes really well.”

The right-handed throws a mid-90s mph fastball, a curve and a changeup, but it’s a hard-biting slider that led to win four of his five August starts last season.

He lasted at least six innings in every one of those starts, never allowing more than two runs.

“He’s got a wipeout pitch in that slider and he’s got a sinker he’s been using that’s been effective, too,” said.

Pitching in a minor league game on Monday to allow the Cardinals better control of his workload, struck out nine during six scoreless innings against the Double-A Marlins.

It’s the second time in three spring starts ’s struck out nine, replicating his four-inning performance two outings prior against Philadelphia. struck out seven consecutive Phillies that day.

“He can throw any pitch for a strike,” catcher Yadier Molina said. “Obviously he can strike out guys. That’s fun. But he can be a different pitcher if he wants. He can be a pitcher, he can be a strikeout pitcher.”

Being called “fun” by Molina elicited another smile.

“To hear him say something like that and truly believe it – that’s one of the best of all time to be back there behind the plate, if not the best. All it does is instill confidence in you,” said.

Prior to Monday’s outing, had allowed four runs on 10 hits in 13 Grapefruit League innings. He’s aiming to improve on last season’s 3.34 ERA over 151 innings, an average that took a hit as appeared to wear down in September.

He finished 8-9 in 28 starts during his first full season in the majors.

“Coming away from there, getting up and down six times, pitch count up and still feeling like there’s something left in the tank – I feel like it’s a really good spot to be in,” said.

NOTES: announced that reliever Brett Cecil will begin the season on the injured list because of an on-going arm issue. …Utility player Jedd Gyorko’s lingering calf injury puts his opening day availability in jeopardy, said. …Originally expected to return on Wednesday, Matt Carpenter’s back tightness now might keep him out of action until the weekend. isn’t concerned about Carpenter’s opening day availability.

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