Cardinals leaning on incumbent veteran pitchers heading into 2023 season Cardinals News
March 6th, 2023
JUPITER, Fla. — Weeks ago, when the Cardinals met prior to their first official Spring Training workout, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president John Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol stuck to a central theme with their pointed messages to the players.
It went something like this: St. Louis had little interest in adding free agent pitchers in the offseason because it believed in the talent within that team meeting. Ultimately, the Cardinals will contend or crumble with the arms already on the staff, as Marmol has put it several times this spring.
On Monday afternoon, healthy hurlers Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz backed up that confidence in the talent already in place with a couple of strikeout-filled outings that have hopes high with them filling out what could be a deep pitching staff.
Making their first Grapefruit League appearances of 2023, Flaherty struck out five over three innings and Matz was perfect in his three-inning stretch and added four more strikeouts as the Cardinals thumped the Astros, 7-1, at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Flaherty, whose 2022 was filled with frustrating stops and starts because of shoulder pain, had to endure some good-natured ribbing from teammate and close friend Adam Wainwright about him not making his first start until two weeks into the game schedule, but he is happy that the front office showed faith in the pitchers on staff going into the season.
“That’s been the talk all spring and all offseason, about counting on the guys in here, and we’ve got a good group,” said Flaherty, who rang up four called strikeouts. “Miles [Mikolas] and [Wainwright] are throwing the ball well, [Jordan Montgomery] and [Dakota Hudson] are throwing the ball well and Matz came in and shoved after me, too.
“So, we’ve got arms and we’ve got a lot of trust with the guys in here. That [team meeting] was what you want to hear — you want to know everybody has confidence in each other.”
Flaherty and Matz inspired confidence on Monday with how quickly they worked, attacked hitters and mostly breezed through three-inning stints. Flaherty opened the game with a walk to Jose Altuve and surrendered a solo home run to David Hensley leading off the second after narrowly missing a strike three call, but he otherwise pitched flawlessly. Flaherty ended each of his three innings the same way — with a strikeout.
As for Matz, the free agent acquisition from the 2021 offseason who struggled through an injury-marred 2022, he retired the nine hitters he faced in order — four of them on whiffs. Of importance for Matz, he hit 95.2 mph and used his sinker to induce three groundouts.
No longer bothered by knee and shoulder pain, Matz has been able to increase his velocity, though remaining healthy has been his biggest goal.
“I took a little different approach this offseason and I feel strong … the strongest I’ve ever been in my career,” said Matz, who was 5-3 with a 5.25 ERA in 15 games in 2022. “I just focused more on health and trying to get as strong as I possibly could. I’m trying to work smarter, I guess that’s the simplest way to say it.”
The Cardinals’ Opening Day starter in 2020 and 2021 and their most dominant pitcher in 2019 and early in 2021, Flaherty’s performance over the next seven months could determine whether St. Louis can contend for a World Series crown. If the 27-year-old Flaherty can regain the form he had in 2019 (231 strikeouts in 196 1/3 innings) and early in 2021 (an 8-1 start to the season), he could almost single-handedly slingshot the Cards into contention, Marmol stressed.
“We didn’t go get another starter based on we trusted what was in that clubhouse,” said Marmol, who is hopeful that Flaherty, Matz and healthy reliever Drew VerHagen can bring more swing and miss to the staff. “At the end of the day, we are counting on [Flaherty] to be a dude, and he’s prepared in a way to do exactly that. So, sometimes you place a bet and that’s what we’ve done. I’d keep [the bet].”
With the venerable Wainwright and the dependable Mikolas away from the team while playing in the World Baseball Classic, Flaherty joked that there will be more attention and pressure on him, Matz and Montgomery to carry the staff in Florida. Flaherty promised that he’s ready to shoulder more of the load for the Cardinals.
“It will be interesting because it will be the first time [in my career] without Waino here,” Flaherty said. “I’ll probably have more eyes on me with what to do and leading the bunch. … I’ve been in this organization for a long time, so in terms of that [I’ll be the leader].”