St. Louis pitcher Jack Flaherty has an ace to call when he needs a little pitching advice.
The 23-year-old Flaherty has become friends with Cardinals pitching legend and Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson. The 83-year-old Gibson, with 251 career wins, is the lodestar for all St. Louis pitchers.“Getting that opportunity with Gibson and trying to develop that relationship more and use it for all that I could, that’s something I try to use to my advantage,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty is about to go to work in his second season in the big leagues.
He finished 8-9 in 2018 with a 3.34 earned run average. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander struck out 182 batters in 151 innings. He led baseball in strikeouts by a rookie. Opponents hit just .199 against him, and he finished fifth in the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting.
Despite the 50-year age gap, the two pitchers stay in contact through emails, texts and phone calls.
Gibson saw something he liked in Flaherty and reached out to him last season during the club’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in August.
When someone like Gibson summons, you go, Flaherty said. Gibson told him he became a fan of his watching him pitch on television.
“I mean, it was special,” said Flaherty, who acknowledged he didn’t know “a whole lot” about Gibson and what he had done in the game.
“There’s no other way to put it – when you hear guy like that wants to meet you and that’s not something he really does ever – I jumped at that opportunity,” Flaherty said. “I try to reach out whenever I can if I have any questions.
“He’s pretty good about getting back to me. That’s just special, really special to me.”
After they visited last summer, Gibson said he would leave his contact information. Sure enough, Flaherty said, there was a piece of paper in his locker with Gibson’s phone number and email address.
So when he feels the need, Flaherty calls or texts Gibson.
Some of the best advice he’s received was Gibson telling him to fight through the weariness that comes in a long season, Flaherty said.
“He said you’re going to get tired at some point … and you just take wherever you’re at and give 100 percent of that,” Flaherty said.
The young pitcher, who likes the history of the game, said he checked out Gibson’s statistics to get a sense of how good he was.
“I looked up what he did, his stats and how good he was. They changed the rules for him,” Flaherty said. “He was that dominant. It’s been fun with him. That’s a legend right there.”
Flaherty was unbeaten in August to improve to 8-6. However, he went winless at 0-3 in six September starts.
That September performance still rankles him.
“I don’t feel like I ended my season very well,” Flaherty said. “I feel like my September was tough. There were ups and downs; it’s up to me to limit those down periods.
“I didn’t live up to my own expectations so you make adjustments and try not to have it carry on for another start.”
Flaherty, who was the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft, will be joining Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright in the starting rotation this spring. That’s different from last season.
In late March 2018, the Cardinals said Flaherty would be on the Opening Day roster in place of the injured Adam Wainwright. But when Wainwright was activated, Flaherty was optioned back to Memphis on April 4.
Flaherty was recalled and optioned back once more before taking Wainwright’s spot in the rotation in May when Wainwright was placed on the 60-day disabled list.
Flaherty stayed the rest of the season with the club.
“It was a lot of growth last year,” Flaherty said. “I’m always ready to get better. I’m always ready to go out there every fifth day and throw.”
That’s what St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said he likes to hear.
“We like Jack in about any situation,” Shildt said. “You’ve got five guys with the ability to say that [they’re No. 1 types], which clearly is a favorable position to be in.”