ST. LOUIS – An important year emerges for a St. Louis Cardinals franchise that hasn’t dealt with significant turnover in the starting rotation for quite some time.
Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, two anchors of that rotation, both enter the 2023 campaign on contract seasons. Another reliable regular, Adam Wainwright, is set to retire at the end of the year.
“We’ve got a good amount of service time in the starting rotation this year,” said Mikolas. “Having the experience of these guys that know how to pitch, know what to expect, how to make it through a long season, that’s going to be a big strength for us.”
Flaherty, 27, looks forward to a fresh start after two injury-riddled seasons, which limited him to 114 innings, and a healthy finish to 2022.
“If I can go out and pitch well and just be myself, we were in a really dang good spot last year,” said Flaherty. “All I’m looking to do is just be myself and add to it.”
A dominant 2019 campaign (11-8, 2.75 ERA, 196.1 IP, 231 strikeouts) seems like a distant memory, and Flaherty hopes to translate some frustrating experiences since then into a competitive edge.
“Whatever happens at the end of it, whatever it brings, I just want to go out, compete and win,” said Flaherty. “I’ve watched three playoff losses in the last three years and haven’t pitched in any of them, and that doesn’t feel good to me. It sucks being there and watching, especially being in the bullpen and watching that happen. These last two years sitting back and watching, it sucked.”
Mikolas, 34, dealt with a slew of injuries prior to his career-high innings mark last year and understands that frustration. He knows not to underestimate Flaherty when healthy.
“He’s one of the hardest workers out there, so I have no doubt he’s doing everything to get in shape for this season,” said Mikolas. “He’s one of those guys who is really fun to compete against because he likes to get under your skin [and] you can get under his skin. Our in-rotation competitions, he’s a guy you want to have in that competition because he’s going to help you elevate your game.”
New-season preparations haven’t changed much from the norm for Mikolas, who will join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic in March. He is particularly intrigued by the demand of pitchers and large contracts from recent winters.
“It underscores the need for good pitching and getting it at a good price,” said Mikolas. “I asked my agent [jokingly], ‘What do I got to do to make [a big contract]?’ He’s like, ‘Well, you got to win four or five Cy Young Awards,’ and I was like, “Okay!” Let’s just start with another good, healthy season.
As Flaherty and Mikolas look to prove themselves for new deals, it’ll come with a bit of emotion too. The soon-to-retire Adam Wainwright has made a strong impression on both of them.
“That dude is an unbelievable person,” said Flaherty, fighting back some tears. “Can’t thank him enough for being there literally from day one, helping me get to this point, and continuing to have my back.”
“If there’s a version of Wainwright that I’d be most worried about as an opponent, it would probably be this one,” said Mikolas. “A guy with that much experience and that much knowledge going into this final year, when you know he’s going to be out there emptying the tank on a regular basis, that’s a guy you got to worry about, hopefully going eight or nine innings a whole bunch of times.”
Jordan Montgomery and Steven Matz are also expected to join Flaherty, Mikolas and Wainwright in the rotation this season. Montgomery is also a free agent at the season’s end, making Matz the only Cardinals rotation member signed beyond 2024.
John Mozeliak, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations, says there haven’t been any new contract extension talks for Flaherty or Mikolas this offseason, though those situations could be revisited as soon as spring training.