3:39 pm: St. Louis announced that Flaherty has been activated from the IL, as expected. LeBlanc landed on the 10-day IL to create an active roster spot. To create space on the 40-man roster, St. Louis placed minor league right-hander Johan Quezada on the 60-day injured list earlier this week, notes Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat (Twitter link).
10:50 am: After more than ten weeks on the injured list due to a severe oblique strain, Jack Flaherty is slated to make his return to the Cardinals tonight, as recently noted by multiple reports (including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). He’ll take the mound to open the Cards’ series against the Royals. The Cardinals will need to make 26-man and 40-man roster moves to accommodate Flaherty’s reinstatement.
Flaherty told reporters last week that he planned to pitch during the just-completed series against the Pirates, but he’ll instead take the mound a day later. His return gives the Cards their best starter after a couple months of patching the rotation in piecemeal fashion, together with journeyman pickups and a heavy reliance on some young arms that may need more development time (e.g. Johan Oviedo).
Prior to his injury, Flaherty was in the midst of a strong bounceback effort following a down year in 2020. He’d made 11 starts, tallied 62 frames and pitched to a 2.90 ERA with better-than-average strikeout and walk rates (26.3 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively). He’s made three rehab starts and built up to as many as 75 pitches in his most recent outing.
Since Flaherty went on the injured list, Cardinals starters rank 17th in the Majors with a 4.54 ERA and 21st with a 4.71 FIP. Those numbers have actually improved recently with excellent work from the seemingly ageless Adam Wainwright and June signee Wade LeBlanc. However, LeBlanc just exited yesterday’s start with left elbow pain and is headed back to St. Louis for imaging work to evaluate the injury, per Katie Woo of The Athletic (Twitter link). The Cards also recently lost Kwang Hyun Kim to another injured list stint — this one for inflammation in his left elbow. Kim has twice missed time this season due to back troubles.
Flaherty’s return should pair him with Wainwright and deadline pickups J.A. Happ and Jon Lester in the rotation while the team awaits word on LeBlanc’s elbow and hopes for a swift return for Kim. It’s also possible that right-hander Miles Mikolas, who has made just one appearance in 2020-21 thanks to a series of forearm injuries, could return within the next week. He’s been progressing through a minor league rehab assignment of his own.
While the Cardinals’ pitching injuries and the questionable depth they carried into the season look to have sunk their division hopes — St. Louis is 11 games back from the division-leading Brewers — they’re still at least on the periphery of the NL Wild Card scene. The Cards are six and a half games back from the second Wild Card and would need to leapfrog each of the Braves, Mets, Reds and Padres in order to seize that spot.
That’s obviously a tall order, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. The Cardinals play each of those clubs at least three times between now and season’s end, and they also have another seven games apiece against stripped-down Cubs and Pirates rosters. They’re a clear playoff long shot, but this is the healthiest their rotation has looked in months.