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Cardinals notebook: Would Redbirds have avoided spree of pitcher injuries if MLB had universal DH?

Cardinals notebook: Would Redbirds have avoided spree of pitcher injuries if MLB had universal DH?

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The Cardinals' Jack Flaherty pitches against the Dodgers on May 31, when he suffered a torso injury that has sidelined him indefinitely.

Due to be re-evaluated in the coming days to outline a timetable for his return, Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty described how his torso injury felt “way better” after a week of rest. Pain first streaked through the area while he was pitching last week at Dodger Stadium, but it was something he had not done much at all in 2020 that signaled concern.

That came on a swing— something a few months ago teams weren’t sure pitchers would take in 2021.

“It was already bugging when I was pitching,” Flaherty said to a few reporters on the field, where vaccinated media were allowed Tuesday for the first time since 2019 because of an agreement between MLB and the players’ union. “I’ve been in that situation before where it’s just something nagging, whatever. You’re a competitor and you know when something is wrong or when something is just nagging. Then the swing took it over the top to let me know that, hey, something is off.”

Flaherty has been diagnosed with a muscle tear in his torso, and the imminent evaluation will look at the oblique strain to observe healing and generate a rehab plan. The Cardinals expect Flaherty to need a week of throwing to rebuild strength for every week he does not throw while recovering from the injury. That could put his return more than a month away and possibly as much as two.

Two of the Cardinals’ starters currently on the injured list, Flaherty and Kwang Hyun Kim, are dealing with issues aggravated by batting.

Kim had a revival of back pain trying to outrun a groundout.

They join a list of anecdotal examples of National League pitchers being injured at the plate or on the bases — doing something none of them had to do in more than 12 months because of the universal designated hitter. The workloads for pitchers are being cautiously managed through the majors this season because of last year’s limited innings, and yet pitchers are hitting in National League games, possibly for the last time as the CBA expires. The universal DH became a bargaining chip during spring, and while both sides called it appealing it was not agreed upon by opening day.

“From a commonsense standpoint the more activity you have the more opportunity you have to be injured,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Point being: The starting pitcher is not going to hit next year, and I think everybody in the league (thought) that prior to this season. So, at that point, it just seemed reasonable not to do it this year for the same reason we didn’t do it last year.

KK trying to leg out a groundball because he’s a competitor, and Jack, you know, taking an aggressive swing because he’s one of the better hitters in this league from a pitching standpoint. You’ve got more volume of what’s taking place and more likelihood that people are going to have an issue that’s non pitching-related. Obviously, it impacted our club. Not crying about it. Just answering the question.”

A stated goal of the universal DH in 2020 was to reduce the chance of injury for pitchers given the short time they had to ready for a season starting in late July, the rigors and unknowns of COVID-19 protocols, and the doubleheaders. The Cardinals had 11, and Shildt noted how the universal DH, he felt, “was good for the game, and I think that was reflected in the injuries or lack thereof, or (fewer) injuries.”

The Cardinals do not encourage pitchers to hit during the offseason. More than any other team in their corner of Florida’s spring training, the Cardinals used their pitchers to hit in exhibition games. This was the subject of much internal discuss, and Shildt got the sense his pitchers wanted to hit more, adding that when the season started “those at-bats are real, and productive at-bats are important to win the game.”

Cardinals such as Shildt and most of the starters have been universally against the DH in the NL while recognizing momentum building for it. Shildt’s point is that even though 2021 is a full season, the same health concerns and some new ones about durability linger from 2020.

Flaherty underscored that he felt the first twinge from pitching, so he cannot pin his IL stint on having to hit.

“If you look at it, something was already bugging before that,” Flaherty said. “It wasn’t like the swing did it. It let me know. Otherwise I would have gone out the next inning and kept pitching. Who knows what would have happened? I would have kept going out and throwing another inning.”

Bader’s recovery elongated

A recent MRI taken of Harrison Bader’s fractured rib revealed that the damage was more severe than initially realized and that has prolonged his recovery, the Cardinals center fielder said Tuesday. Bader continues to rest his torso and avoid any twisting and turning that might aggravate the area that was broken when he landed on a baseball trying to make a catch.

“Going to be a little longer than we anticipated,” Shildt said. Bader’s return “is not around the immediate corner.”

Bader said the clearer image of the injury came once the swelling had been reduced and was asked for once his recovery had a slower pace. What he has been able to do is work on his arm and continuing strengthening it after the flexor tendon injury that put him on the injured list to start the season. When Bader returned to the lineup he was not yet at full strength with his throws, so he said he’s using this time “to make sure there are no limits with what I can do throwing when I get back.”

Molina eyes Tuesday return

A few days after taking a foul ball off a knee and bruising it enough to cause stiffness and discomfort, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina remained out of the lineup Tuesday and with hopes of playing Wednesday as Adam Wainwright makes his next start.

Molina’s absence Tuesday paired backup Andrew Knizner with starter Carlos Martinez. The Cardinals have sought to avoid a return to the 10-day injured list for their catcher with the two off days this week so that he does not miss the weekend series at Wrigley Field.

Molina is available “in an emergency,” the team has said. He would have taken the at-bat Sunday in the ninth inning if the Cardinals loaded the bases without tying to the game or had a chance to win it when the pitcher’s spot came up.

“I imagine the consistent crouching is part of it,” Shildt said. “I just feel like another day, he’ll be in the lineup.”

DeJong update & more

With Class AAA Memphis’ rainout Tuesday, shortstop Paul DeJong (fractured rib) will spend at least Wednesday’s doubleheader with the Redbirds as he continues his rehab assignment. The Cardinals expect DeJong to join them in Chicago, possibly Thursday evening, and be considered for the active roster as a series opens Friday against the Cubs. … Outfielder Justin Williams (neck) remains limited in his range of motion and has been unable to advance to increased activities during this home stand. … While continuing to get experience at second and third bases, top prospect Nolan Gorman hit .429 (11-for-26) over the past week, and he homered Tuesday night. One of his newest teammates at Class AA Springfield, outfielder Alec Burleson, is the swiftest-riser of the Cardinals’ 2020 draft. Burleson, 22, has hit .292 with a .847 OPS and three homers in 16 games since his promotion to the S-Cards.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

dgoold@post-dispatch.com

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