ST. LOUIS ( – After the Cardinals rushed to rehabilitate starter Jack Flaherty for a scheduled short start in Game 2 of Friday’s doubles program at Wrigley Field, there was no obvious place for him to reside in the team’s pitching mix going forward.

A spot in the rotation, his usual role, was not a fix given his lack of stamina build-up following a shoulder condition that put him on the injured list for a spell. The high-leverage relief also didn’t come up with an ideal response, given the club’s desire to slowly get Flaherty back into the action with a keen eye on his long-term health.

For example, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said this week ahead of the Milwaukee series that Flaherty would be available outside the Cardinals’ box, calling the pitcher’s situation “fluid.” While the Cardinals wanted to know more about Flaherty after his brief outing intentionally on Friday night, the state of play and the unfolding of the series would dictate the circumstances of his next appearance.

While Flaherty didn’t feature in the comeback win to clinch a playoff berth on Tuesday, when the Cardinals found themselves four points behind late in Wednesday’s game, it offered a perfect chance to put the right-hander to work. 25 years old. For the start of the eighth inning, Flaherty jogged from the right field paddock to the delight of the Busch Stadium crowd.

His entry came as a pleasant surprise to home fans who had missed seeing several of the regulars from the starting St. Louis lineup the night after the team celebrated their Wild Card status. His strong performance invites tantalizing questions about his potential role as the Cardinals prepare for the playoffs.

Flaherty faced five batters in a scoreless eighth goal on Wednesday, allowing Lorenzo Cain a well-placed brace in the right corner of the field as the only hit against him. He also walked one, pulled out another and benefited from an exceptional defensive effort from second baseman Jose Rondon. The reserve utility, who started at second base, moved into mid-deep center-right field to get a slippery grip on a Daniel Vogelbach blooper.

Flaherty threw 17 shots on the exit, which keeps him in a precarious range for the Cardinals as they begin to weigh their options for a playoff lineup this week. When it comes to Flaherty, the team must contend with the realities of a declining schedule and a super talented pitcher working to regain a foothold on the fly at the big league level.

“We’re in the balancing act there and we’re going to continue to understand what that looks like,” Shildt said of Flaherty’s status after Wednesday’s game. “We are not going to push for the sake of pushing. We will launch him when he feels good and confident. We will give him the opportunity to go out and compete. But we also recognize that we’re on the verge of heading into the playoffs. It’s not a – it’s time, obviously, to put the guys out there who can help us the most. Jack is clearly a guy who can help us. But we have to make sure that we are carrying a group that doesn’t have a lot of limitations in this frame.

With four games to go in the regular season and the team’s winning streak no longer a factor, Flaherty could potentially be available for another relief appearance before Sunday’s final against the Cubs at Busch Stadium. The results of that eventual outing, both in terms of efficiency and physical preparation, could influence the club’s determination on whether it can reasonably deploy Flaherty as a playoff weapon.

The Wild Card Game on Wednesday, October 6 will be a stand-alone round with a stand-alone roster, so it’s possible the Cardinals could make a decision on whether to include Flaherty for this game and then another for a potential NLDS round.

With the regular season hourglass running out of sand later this week, tune-up time for the aspiring ace pitcher will quickly become a decision-making moment for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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