Maybe John Mozeliak and starter Jack Flaherty should start holding joint news conferences for the right-hander’s injury updates moving forward.
Or with the way this trend is going, perhaps lean into the drama and turn this saga into a must-see Bally Sports Midwest special, one complete with a debate-style setup.
Mozeliak could start the segment by offering the latest Flaherty health update from his vantage point.
Flaherty would then get two minutes for a rebuttal.
Eventually both could come to an agreement that it’s best to blame the media — even if those who know better don’t buy it.
What should have been a simple enough update of a serious subject — Flaherty’s latest injured-list stint — on Monday afternoon instead became the freshest example of Flaherty and the head of baseball operations reading from different pages.
It had been barely more than three months since the two butted heads over the characterization of the injury that put Flaherty on the injured list in the first place.
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That spring-training squabble was about Mozeliak revealing to the world that Flaherty had for seasons been pitching with a small tear in his superior labrum anterior and posterior, more commonly called a SLAP tear. Flaherty referred to the revealing of that information as “interesting” at the time and stressed that the right shoulder bursitis he has spent much of this season working his way back from instead was related to issues with his mechanics.
Flaherty made his return from the setback against Pittsburgh at home on June 15, and now, he’s on the injured list again after manager Oliver Marmol described the right-hander feeling a dead-arm sensation. After allowing five earned runs in six innings combined through his first two starts, he was lifted after two scoreless but laborious innings into what became Sunday’s 6-5 series loss to the Cubs at home.
“It just felt tight,” Flaherty said Monday in his first remarks about the setback, before he met with doctors. “It’s just one of those things that is probably not smart to continue pitching through. It felt tight, so we shut it down. Probably could have kept pitching, kept going. But at the end of the day, it was kind of like: Why?”
A brief return that left the Cardinals stranded in a rubber match against a rival and led to a hefty load of bullpen work during a hellacious stretch of the schedule has caused some second-guessing from the front office. The initial plan for Flaherty’s path back to the majors, Mozeliak reminded Monday, had Flaherty slated for three additional rehab starts in the minors. Flaherty advocated for making starts for the Cardinals sooner. He felt good. He felt ready. The team agreed to change the initial plan.
“If you’re asking what would you second-guess, it would be could we have extended him longer on the rehab assignment,” Mozeliak said during a lengthy discussion Monday.
“A lot of it is based on the feedback you are getting from the athlete,” Mozeliak added. “And at that point, it was, he was very optimistic of where he was. Internally, we debated that. Ultimately it’s not our decision. We laid out a plan. The plan was deviated. And here we are.”
Teams can’t force players to accept rehab assignments. Teams do decide when players get activated. This appears to be a case of a team that was swayed by a player’s opinion of a situation suggesting the player perhaps should have stuck with the initial plan.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Flaherty said. “I know what you guys (reporters) are looking for. You are obviously looking for somebody to blame. That’s what you guys have to do. Why would we go change anything? Everything felt great. We did everything the right way. Training staff did everything the right way. The organization did everything the right way. It’s unfortunate, what happened. We did everything right. We were honest with each other through the whole process. Everything felt great.
“I came out and didn’t pitch well the first two (starts), but yesterday I came out and was pitching a lot better, executing way better in the first inning. I pitched around an error and made my own error the next inning. I was able to pitch around that and make pitches when I needed to. I was finally getting into a groove. It just didn’t feel good, like 100%.”
Flaherty was adamant that he will pitch again this season, though a return before the All-Star break seems unlikely, and there are only 65 games left after that pause.
It’s just the latest twist for a star pitcher and a front office that can make the seemingly mundane a debate.
“At the end of the day, we sat in this room and we discussed what Jack wanted, what we wanted and what was best moving forward,” Marmol said. “And we left the room with a decision. All right, that’s what we are going to do. Did it work out? No. Could this have happened in Triple A? Yes. We can second-guess it, but the reality is he’s back on the IL.”
Stay tuned for the next episode.