Jack Flaherty

Ahead of today’s game against the Nationals, the Cardinals took the expected step of activating Jack Flaherty from the 60-day injured list. To make room for right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson, the team designated reliever Junior Fernández for assignment while also optioning the right-handed pitcher to Triple-A Memphis.

At Busch Stadium, Flaherty will be making his first Major League Baseball (MLB) appearance since July 11. The right-hander missed a significant amount of time this year due to shoulder issues, and his most recent start was cut short.

Flaherty didn’t make his season debut until June 15 because of bursitis, and the great pitcher admitted in spring training that he’s been pitching with a labrum tear in the area for years.

Flaherty has had another injury-plagued season after spending significant time on the disabled list with an oblique strain and shoulder issues in 2017. Last year, he made 15 of 17 starts, but this year he’s only allowed to make three.

Flaherty’s performance this year was clearly hindered by the absences; he allowed six runs in eight innings, walked nine batters, and struck out only six. His fastball velocity dropped from an average of 94 MPH in the previous season to an average of 92.1 MPH this year.

Flaherty still has a month of regular season games to play, so he has an opportunity to get back into form. In his greatest form, he’s an ace-caliber pitcher who might be a game-changer in the playoffs. In 2019, he posted a 2.75 ERA with a 29.9 percent strikeout rate throughout a career-high 196 and one-third innings, and he finished fourth in NL Cy Young balloting.

With a 25-7 record since the beginning of August, St. Louis has effectively sealed control of the NL Central, eight and a half games ahead of the Brewers. However, they have an uphill battle to secure a first-round bye, as they are now 5 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Mets for the Senior Circuit’s second seed.

Should they finish in third place, they would play host to the last Wild Card qualifier in a best-of-three series. Flaherty’s manager Oliver Marmol may base his strategy for using him in that series on how he performs down the stretch. Flaherty joins José Quintana and the struggling Miles Mikolas as potential alternatives for a third start in the postseason behind Adam Wainwright and deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery.

Upon Flaherty’s return, Hudson was removed from the starting lineup. St. Louis had previously stated that he would be pitching out of the bullpen, but they have now decided to send him back to Memphis so that he can pitch in the starting rotation there.

STLSportsPage’s Rob Rains tweeted that the Cardinals are still planning to start Hudson in the second game of their doubleheader against the Reds on September 17. It is unclear whether he will continue to pitch in relief for the big league team after today’s demotion or return to Triple-A to complete the mandatory 10-day minor league stint for optioned players.

Jack Flaherty

The 2022 season was not Hudson’s best, despite his long tenure in the rotation. Despite making 24 starts, his 4.43 ERA is below average, and his 13.5% strikeout rate is below average. While Hudson’s 52.8% ground-ball percentage is impressive, it’s a drop from the 56.9% figure he set in his greatest season in 2019. He’s struggled mightily in the second half of the season, with a 5.52 ERA in 29 and third innings of work since the All-Star break.

Even if his recall in 12 days is a one-time deal, Hudson’s demotion won’t affect his service time in any way. This season is his fourth year in the league, putting him on course to become a free agent in 2024 at the earliest. If the Cards offer him an arbitration deal at the end of the season, he would be entitled to a raise from his current $1.05MM salary.

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Fernández, meanwhile, will soon be available on the waiver wire. After joining St. Louis as a free agent when he was an amateur in 2014, he finally made it to the majors five years later.

Over the course of the last four years, Fernández has made 47 total appearances and pitched 50 2/3 innings while on and off the active roster. He has a 5.51 ERA, has struck out 19% of batters faced, and has issued walks to a relatively high percentage of batters (13.1%) in that period.

This season, the 6’3″ pitcher has a 2.93 ERA in 13 MLB games, although his strikeout and walk rates have been rather low for his career. Run prevention has been more of a challenge for him in Memphis, where he has allowed more than five earned runs per nine innings during 36 relief appearances.

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Even though 25-year-old Fernández hasn’t had much success in MLB thus far, he still might be worth a look on the waiver wire. His average fastball velocity in the major leagues this year is a scorching 98.8 miles per hour.

More than half of the batted balls hit against him in the majors and Triple-A have resulted in groundouts for him. If he is claimed off waivers, the team that takes him on can send him to Triple-A for the rest of the season, but he will be out of choices for next season and will have to either break camp with another team or go back on the waiver wire.

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