ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Cardinals are getting some key contributions from an important rotation piece at a time it’s been hard to come by wins.

Jack Flaherty fired six scoreless innings against a high-octane Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday, paving St. Louis to a 1-0 victory to close out a tough roadtrip. Flaherty didn’t end up with the victory, but earned his third quality start in five games.

Those last five games embody the best stretch of Flaherty’s 2023 campaign. In that stretch, he’s covered 30 innings, held opponents to just five runs and averaged around seven strikeouts per game. The Cardinals won in four of those five starts.

The 2023 season is a critical one for Flaherty in many ways. The 27-year-old could become a free agent next season, and big results could be essential in shaping his next contract, whether with St. Louis or elsewhere. As of now, it’s also shaping to be his first largely-healthy season since 2019, when he set many personal bests and finished fourth place in NL Cy Young voting.

Flaherty is bouncing back after a tough stretch to start the season. Walks have challenged him for most of the season as his 40 free-passes are second-most in the league. He was also rocked for 10 earned runs in less than three innings against the Los Angeles Angels in early-May.

Since then, Flaherty has focused more on his fastball velocity and finding ways to change speeds of his signature pitch when the situation calls.

“Preparation will give you everything you need in those spots,” said Flaherty via Bally Sports Midwest after the victory on Wednesday. “If you’re prepared, and you know it, I know what I can do, and I can’t do. I also know what our game plan is, where I can go with certain pitches and what I need to do to execute. The more preparation I put in, the better chance I give myself.”

Flaherty says the preparation helps in high-pressure situations, like two jams he escaped in the first and sixth innings with runners in scoring position on Wednesday. He reached mid-90s on his fastball and often changed his arsenal with a slider in strikeout spots.

“When things heighten, you got to manage the game,” said Flaherty. “You got to figure out what you got to do that. Things get heightened with runners get on, but I kind of did that to myself by walking guys. I got to do a better job of that.”

With Wednesday’s gem, Flaherty has dropped his earned run average to 4.15, nearly three full runs over a calendar month. Take away the Angels game, his ERA for the season is below 3.00. Despite five walks Wednesday, he’s done a better job of recent of avoiding those to pileup during starts.

Flaherty’s teammates have taken notice of his recent improvements.

“We’re really happy for him,” said outfielder Alec Burleson via Bally Sports Midwest, backing the Cardinals to victory with the only score Wednesday a solo home run. “He’s had his ups and downs, but it’s fun to go out there and see him compete the way he did, especially after the first inning. Just to go out there and compete and let us play behind him, he was awesome.”

The Cardinals kick off a seven-game homestand one Friday, first set to host the Cincinnati Reds. Flaherty is next scheduled to pitch against the San Francisco Giants next week.