- Associated Press - Monday, March 18, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) - Jack Flaherty has done the math, and it all adds up. The young St. Louis pitcher is in line to start the Cardinals’ home opener.

“Freakin’ cool,” the 23-year-old Flaherty said, sporting a huge grin. “To put it as forward as I can, it would be freakin’ sweet.”

Other than announcing Miles Mikolas as the opening day starter March 28 at Milwaukee, manager Mike Shildt has yet to make public his starting rotation, nor has he discussed it with Flaherty.

But with one Grapefruit League start remaining, Flaherty is in position to make the Cardinals’ second start of the season. And if that schedule plays out as expected, his second turn figures to be the home opener on April 4 against San Diego.

“We know Jack’s commitment, that’s really evident,” Shildt said. “We know Jack is athletic, that’s on display. We know Jack’s got all the pitches. We know Jack competes really well.”

The right-handed Flaherty throws a mid-90s mph fastball, a curve and a changeup, but it’s a hard-biting slider that led Flaherty to win four of his five August starts last season.

He lasted at least six innings in every one of those starts, never allowing more than two runs.

“He’s got a wipeout pitch in that slider and he’s got a sinker he’s been using that’s been effective, too,” Shildt said.

Pitching in a minor league game on Monday to allow the Cardinals better control of his workload, Flaherty struck out nine during six scoreless innings against the Double-A Marlins.

It’s the second time in three spring starts Flaherty’s struck out nine, replicating his four-inning performance two outings prior against Philadelphia. Flaherty struck out seven consecutive Phillies that day.

“He can throw any pitch for a strike,” catcher Yadier Molina said. “Obviously he can strike out guys. That’s fun. But he can be a different pitcher if he wants. He can be a contact pitcher, he can be a strikeout pitcher.”

Being called “fun” by Molina elicited another Flaherty smile.

“To hear him say something like that and truly believe it - that’s one of the best of all time to be back there behind the plate, if not the best. All it does is instill confidence in you,” Flaherty said.

Prior to Monday’s outing, Flaherty had allowed four runs on 10 hits in 13 Grapefruit League innings. He’s aiming to improve on last season’s 3.34 ERA over 151 innings, an average that took a hit as Flaherty appeared to wear down in September.

He finished 8-9 in 28 starts during his first full season in the majors.

“Coming away from there, getting up and down six times, pitch count up and still feeling like there’s something left in the tank - I feel like it’s a really good spot to be in,” Flaherty said.

NOTES: Shildt announced that reliever Brett Cecil will begin the season on the injured list because of an on-going arm issue. …Utility player Jedd Gyorko’s lingering calf injury puts his opening day availability in jeopardy, Shildt said. …Originally expected to return on Wednesday, Matt Carpenter’s back tightness now might keep him out of action until the weekend. Shildt isn’t concerned about Carpenter’s opening day availability.

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