Flaherty ‘ultra prepared’ for ’24, has strong outing versus Phils

Detroit Tigers

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tigers starter Jack Flaherty was dealing here against the Phillies. He struck out five and allowed only one hit over four innings in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss.

“He was great,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said. “He did everything from show his power and strength to his ability to pitch, and change speeds with both breaking balls. I loved everything about his outing today.”

Flaherty was a handful for a powerful Philadelphia lineup, and kept the sellout crowd of 9,215 at BayCare Ballpark hushed during his 57 pitches, aside from Bryce Harper’s line single to right field in the first inning.

However, it was his next encounter with Harper that provided his most impressive pitching.

Flaherty got Harper to swing and miss at a first-pitch changeup. Then he got him to chase a low slider before throwing a four-seam fastball out of the strike zone for a 1-2 count.

Flaherty didn’t let the two-time MVP off the hook by nibbling with pitches. He came right at him with one of his best fastballs of the day — a 96 mph steamer that Harper swung at and missed. He glanced back at Flaherty while returning to the dugout after the strikeout.

“When you execute good pitches against good hitters, good things are going to happen,” Flaherty said.

Harper is 0-for-3 against Flaherty with one strikeout in regular season games, but has drawn three walks against him.

Flaherty’s fastball velocity averaged 94.2 mph during the game, and it was 94.4 and 95.1 in his last two starts. So, he’s up a tick from the 93.1 fastball average he had last season with the Cardinals and Orioles.

“It’s good to hold [the velocity] as the innings go on and games go on,” Flaherty said. “It gets to that cruising speed.”

He also throws an excellent slider, changeup and knuckle curve — having “ditched” his cutter.

Flaherty’s best year was 2019, when he was 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA and struck out 231 in 196 1/3 innings with 55 walks. He was the Opening Day starter for St. Louis in 2020 and 2021.

“We loved the ingredients,” Hinch said. “He’s hungry to learn. He came here to help us win. He came here to get better, and he’s attacked it wholeheartedly since the day we signed him…He’s going to really help us.”

Flaherty also serves as an excellent example for Detroit’s talented young pitchers such as Opening Day starter Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize and Matt Manning.

“Behind the scenes, I think he’s ultra prepared,” Hinch said. “He’s a curious player with a curious mind that always wants to find a way to get a little bit better. He uses pitches a little more wisely.

“I’ve loved getting to know him at this point…We’ve seen a commitment to making some subtle tweaks to use his stuff a little bit better. I think his fastball has been better this spring — which has been good. And outside of the game [against the Yankees] where he walked three guys, we really want him to miss over the strike zone over the plate. But his mindset is what we wanted to see. And throughout spring, he’s been nothing but a sponge.”

Flaherty, a first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2014, said he was influenced on that team by veteran pitchers Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Michael Wacha. And even back to high school, he was learning from standouts. First-rounders Max Fried and Lucas Giolito were two years ahead of him at Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High.

“You just learn from them and take from them what you can,” said Flaherty, who is 42-34 with a 3.75 ERA after seven seasons. “And you listen to A.J. He’s been with some studs — he’s had [Justin] Verlander, he’s had [Gerrit] Cole. And you talk to him about how they prepared.

“You want to be on that same level. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. It allows you to go out there and be confident that you’ve done all you can.”

Jobe ‘unlikely’ to see more Florida game action
Jackson Jobe, Detroit’s top pitching prospect, created quite a buzz by throwing one perfect inning with two strikeouts and hitting 102 mph on the radar gun Tuesday against Minnesota. Yet, the non-roster invitee might not take the mound in another Grapefruit League game.

“I think it’s unlikely,” Hinch said, “but I wouldn’t say, ‘No.’ We haven’t gotten any further than the one outing — which we all saw was electric. But he’ll go on his normal five-day [rotation], getting ready for the season [in the Minors]. If he falls into some innings that we can use, great. If it doesn’t, we’re not going to alter his plans to get ready for the season.”

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