Jack Flaherty has made it a point over his last few starts to attack early in the count with an array of pitches, which is causing fits for hitters across the Pacific Coast League.
The third-ranked Cardinals prospect was at it again Sunday, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out nine over seven innings to pitching Triple-A Memphis to a 6-0 blanking of Tacoma at Cheney Stadium.
"If he fell behind hitters he was really good at getting back into the count," Redbirds pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd said. "He obviously just executed his pitches. He mixed his slider really well with his fastball, really moved it around to keep them off-balance. He did a really nice job of controlling the game."
Video: The Redbirds' Flaherty records his ninth strikeout
After rolling through the Texas League with a 7-2 record and 1.42 ERA in 10 starts, Flaherty was promoted to Memphis at the start of June. His Triple-A tenure got off to a tough start as MLB.com's No. 53 overall prospect held a 4.33 ERA and 1.26 WHIP through his first five outings. But Flaherty got going in July, posting a 2.05 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while fanning 25 over 26 1/3 innings.
"I think the biggest thing is exactly the same thing that he did today," Eversgerd said. "He had a few starts earlier on where he got himself into hitters' counts and they were not necessarily hitting the ball but fouling off a lot of good pitches because he got into some deeper counts. And today he did a nice job of controlling the counts and hitters were chasing around him a little more."
Flaherty was in control from the outset Sunday, retiring the first eight batters on 29 pitches before Steven Baron drew a two-out walk in the third. The 2014 first-round pick induced a groundout from Mariners No. 24 prospect Ian Miller to end any threat.
Eversgerd said he believes Flaherty's success stemmed from mixing his pitches well and keeping the Rainiers guessing just about every at-bat.
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"You can't judge a start by the first inning; he did have a nice first," Eversgerd said. "You hope for the same thing when he comes out for the second. He ended up getting through the second and third and was moving along and was throwing the ball really well. You just look for the execution of pitches more than anything. He seemed to have his weapons working and he did a nice job."
Mariners No. 12 prospect Daniel Vogelbach singled in the fourth and Dario Pizzano followed suit in the fifth, but neither got past first base. Flaherty set down the final seven batters he faced, four on strikeouts. The right-hander was pulled after throwing 65 of 102 pitches for strikes, but Eversgerd never saw the right-hander lose his command or tempo as the day unfolded.
"Obviously as a 21-year-old kid, you love to see him pitch deeper into these games," Eversgerd said. "It just goes to show that his work in between starts is good. He's very intentional with his work and takes his career very seriously, and it shows up on start day."
With Flaherty's work ethic, Eversgerd isn't surprised the California native has dropped his ERA to 2.83 and his WHIP to 1.09 ERA through 11 PCL starts.
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"If we can kind of keep him with how he is now, he's mixing his pitches well," Eversgerd said. "[Catcher] Alberto Rosario did a really good job working with him today. He's executing pitches, he's executing secondary pitches when he's in even counts or even behind in the count, which is a big thing being able to throw those for strikes in all counts. He's starting to do that. We're just trying to keep him going here."
Arturo Reyes followed Flaherty and allowed one hit over the final two innings to nail down Memphis' fourth shutout of the season.
Aledmys Diaz and Jose Adolis Garcia homered for the Redbirds, while fifth-ranked Cardinals prospect Harrison Bader went 2-for-4 with a run scored.