Sweat dripping after a bullpen session on a muggy Sunday at Busch Stadium, right-hander Jack Flaherty reminded reporters that starts have been scripted for Cardinals pitchers that called for low pitch counts, perhaps even lower than the 58 pitches he threw in a rehab start on Wednesday in Memphis and certainly fewer than the 75 he might throw in his next start.
Flaherty made it clear Sunday that he hoped that next start, which, indeed, will be on Wednesday, would be at Busch Stadium. Manager Oliver Marmol made it equally clear those 75 pitches will be tossed at Memphis.
“He is ready to go,” said Marmol, echoing Flaherty’s sentiments. “And that’s Jack. He’s ultra-competitive. He’s dying to help us win, which is why I love him.”
Flaherty, who has been out all season as he heals from shoulder bursitis, last started for the Cardinals on Aug. 24.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” Marmol said, “and that he’s with us all the way through the playoffs.”
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Marmol, likewise, made it clear that Flaherty, who also suffered an oblique strain a year ago May, had been in complete collaboration with the medical staff in his recovery.
“We want him as back as soon as possible,” Marmol said, “but we also want him here the entire time. He’s been fighting hard to be here now.”
Flaherty’s next start after Wednesday — wherever it is — will then be targeted for 90 pitches.
“Of course, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I feel good. This is the best I’ve felt since 2019.”
“I came back here for a reason — to throw a bullpen here and be around the guys and see what they have to say.
“I don’t know if it’s a pitch count thing or what I have to do in order to be able to pitch here.”
Flaherty said he hadn’t been told what the next step would be, although Marmol knows what he wants.
“It feels good to compete and go up against other guys,” Flaherty said. “I’m looking forward to doing it here and not elsewhere.
“We’ve … shown we’ll throw guys out there on short pitch counts, so …“
Thompson to start on Monday
Left-handed rookie Zack Thompson, who gained a four-inning save in his major league debut a week ago Saturday in Chicago, will make his first appearance since then when he starts Monday night here against Pittsburgh. Marmol said left-hander Matthew Liberatore will be the 27th man for Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Pirates and start Game 1.
Thompson said he was surprised to hear from Marmol Sunday morning that he had the assignment. His family from Selma, Indiana, some five hours away, will be on hand.
Liberatore made his big-league debut on May 21 in Pittsburgh, giving up four runs in 4²/³ innings. He had two other starts: one a win and one a loss.
Asked in Memphis by the Post-Dispatch’s Daniel Guerrero about what he had learned in his first three big-league outings, Liberatore responded, “I think it’s the same thing that I learned in the first half of the season here last year. If I’m behind in counts and throwing stuff over the middle of the plate, I get hit.”
‘Great news’ on Matz
Another left-handed starter, Steven Matz, who has been out three weeks with a left shoulder impingement, said he felt better than he had for a while when he threw on flat ground Sunday.
“Great news,” said Marmol. “He said this is the best his arm has felt while playing catch and after playing catch.”
Marmol said, however, there still was no timetable for Matz advancing to face hitters, whether they are his teammates or a minor league opponent on a rehab option.
“Today was good news,” Marmol said. “Let’s repeat good news.”
Matz, concurring, said, “Today was a great day. The shoulder can be a little finicky sometimes. I wish it was a lot faster than it’s been going, but in order to compete at a high level, you’ve got to make sure you’re right.
“I was hoping to take a week off and get right back to it,” said Matz, who had a similar injury with the New York Mets in 2016. “But I think I’m a good spot right now to build it back up.
“You want to get back. You want to be able to contribute. But I want to be able to contribute when I’m feeling 100%. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Corey Dickerson (strained left calf) hit on the field and did some running. Marmol said that ultimately Dickerson will need a rehab option as well.
Jordan Hicks, out about three weeks with a forearm flexor tendon problem, threw off the mound for the first time since being hurt. Hicks said he threw 25 fastballs in the mid-90s and was able to pitch “free and natural.” He also will require a minor league rehab stint.
A day after Paul Goldschmidt had his on-base streak snapped at 46 games, he had a scheduled day off Sunday. His replacement, Juan Yepez, had a homer and two singles. … Shortstop Paul DeJong, continuing his surge at Class AAA Memphis, hit his third homer in two days and knocked in three runs on Sunday. DeJong has nine home runs and his average is up to .245 after a horrid start upon being sent down by the Cardinals.
Photos: Steamy, sticky Sunday at Busch as Cardinals fall to Reds 7-6