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Flaherty had 'terrible' command, but pitching wasn't the only issue for Cardinals

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Jack Flaherty was having none of that talk about the “process” relative to his comeback from shoulder problems that have plagued him for nearly the past year.

“There’s no part of the process,” he said, pointedly. “You feel good and you’ve felt good this whole time ... and you want to pitch well.

“Yeah, it’s the first one. But it happens. You have games like that. But it’s not always part of the ‘process.’’’

Flaherty, making his first start for the Cardinals since last September, got to his prescribed 60-pitch limit Wednesday night in a 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. He gave up four runs in three innings but clearly was far from mid-season form after healing from a long bout with shoulder bursitis.

The Pirates, because of some shoddy fielding by the Cardinals, including by Flaherty himself, shouldn’t have scored any of those runs.

Pittsburgh, salvaging one game of a four-game series, scored twice each in the first and second innings. In the first, with runners at first and third, rookie first baseman Brendan Donovan, who otherwise fielded brilliantly — he made two diving stops besides having three hits — could only knock down what should have been a double-play ball hit by slow-running Daniel Vogelbach.

Donovan took the out at first as a run scored from third. Flaherty then made a bad pitch to Cal Mitchell and Mitchell’s single scored another run.

In the second, Flaherty and catcher Yadier Molina both threw the ball way at first base after fielding bunt attempts and two runs scored without the ball leaving the infield except for the Cardinals throwing it out of the infield.

Flaherty, who walked two (both scored), hit one and fanned three, closed on a high note, recording three ground-ball outs in the third.

His command?

“It was terrible,” said Flaherty. “I got into some counts that weren’t great.

“I wasn’t nearly as sharp as I had been.”

Flaherty had pitched seven innings in two minor league rehab stats at Class AA Springfield and Class AAA Memphis, giving up just one hit and one run, before asking to pitch here Wednesday rather than make another start at Memphis.

But manager Oliver Marmol said, “The outing looks a lot better if we make those plays. Overall, I thought, he actually did well for the first time out in controlling his nerves.

"The misplays hurt but, more important, he (felt) really good afterward.”

Flaherty wanted more intensity here rather than more pitches at Memphis but he said he had a hard time calming down. “That’s probably as juiced-up as I’ve been, honestly." he said.

"I had to catch my breath and slow down. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. Usually, I keep that under wraps pretty well. It was one of those where I had to gather myself.

“Maybe that led to the first-inning command being a little bit off.”

Flaherty, with the double play being missed, tossed 31 of his 60 pitches in the first. “I came out and I tried to throw the ball through (instead of to) Yadi,” said Flaherty. “I finally settled in in the third.”

As upset as he was with his lack of command, Flaherty was beside himself with his fielding. “We’ve got a really good defense. I pride myself on my defense,” said Flaherty.

“Yadi’s a stud. I threw mine away and he threw his away. That’s not going to happen. He’s not going to throw another one away. He’s maybe the best of all time.''

With a runner at first base, Tyler Heineman bunted down the third-base line. Flaherty picked up the ball and fired it past Donovan at first, with runner Canaan Smith-Njigba scoring all the way from first.

Then, Hoy Park bunted between home plate and the mound. Flaherty and Molina both went for it, with Molina calling Flaherty off but winging another peg past Donovan as Heineman scored.

“He wanted it. And I’m going to give it to him 10 times out of 10," Flaherty said. "He’s going to make that throw 10 times out of 10. This happened to be the 11th. Just a weird one.

“But he’s the best. It was good to get him back there again and throw to him. It’s been a while.

“I’m more upset with the one I threw away. It’s an out. I sailed that one,” Flaherty said.

Marmol thought Park would have beaten Molina’s throw. “But,” said Marmol, “it doesn’t help when the ball goes to right field.”

Molina sat glumly, uniform still on, long after the game. He declined comment.

Late-inning relievers Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos and Genesis Cabrera all were deemed unavailable Wednesday night. Johan Oviedo was fine, hurling 2 1/3 scoreless innings before prized rookie Andre Pallante entered with a man on in the sixth. Pallante escaped that inning but surrendered a two-out single to Tucupita Marcano in the seventh and then Bryan Reynolds’ 11th homer, a full-count drive to right field, and the Pirates had their second lead of the night. Pallante had allowed just one homer and only four runs in his first 36 innings.

“It’s definitely one I’d like to have back,” said Pallante, who suffered his first big-league loss and faulted himself for falling behind in the count at 2-0 before Reynolds handled a curveball.

“One bad (pitch) can ruin an outing,” Pallante, who worked 2 1/3 innings.

Marmol said Donovan, standing in for Paul Goldschmidt, who served as the designated hitter, would be hard on himself for failing to make the first-inning double play. And he was. But he also had 11 hits in four games while being the only Cardinal to play every inning in the field during this heat-laced series.

His secret?

“I sleep a lot,” he said. “I think it’s important to sleep and recover. Our performance staff has a great routine for that.”

Marmol said, “Usually when you get tired, you see guys give at-bats away. We haven’t seen that yet.”

Flaherty, said Marmol, will be on target to pitch Tuesday against at Milwaukee. The 26-year-old expects to be better.

“You need one like this every so often,” Flaherty said after Wednesday’s game. “You don’t want them. But you need something like this. You need games like this.

“If you execute, good things happen. That’s the third inning. If you execute, good things happen.”

Then, there was the second inning. “If I get my job done, things are different,” Flaherty said. “Leadoff walk, I throw a ball away and a guy scores.

“You execute and do your job, good things happen.”

The Cardinals didn’t execute Wednesday as well as they should have, counting strikeouts by Nolan Gorman and Tyler O’Neill with runners at second and third and the Cardinals down two runs in the seventh.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, desperate for a win after losing nine games in succession, brought in his closer, David Bednar, to get those two outs. And six more.

“I would have done the same thing,” Marmol said.

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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