SAN DIEGO -- The offense didn't awaken early enough to award Jack Flaherty a win on Wednesday night. But his performance in the Cardinals' 3-1 victory over the Padres not only laid the foundation for the club's come-from-behind victory, it also showcased lessons learned after an uneven Major League debut.
Five days removed from four-inning no-decision in San Francisco, Flaherty maneuvered through the Padres' order with minimal resistance, even while walking four. A double play helped him escape from a third-inning jam, and an elevated changeup that Yangervis Solarte crushed into the right-field seats represented the only pitch of Flaherty's 86 that he couldn't work around.
Flaherty scattered two other hits over five innings.
"Very good. Much better fastball command," manager Mike Matheny said. "He has good stuff. It'll be fun to watch him continue to progress."
Critical of his command following his debut, Flaherty gave the Padres a different look than he did the Giants. Flaherty went heavier with his fastball usage (nearly 70 percent), but also showed three effective secondary pitches with the use of a slider, changeup and curveball.
The mix helped Flaherty generate more swinging strikes (10) and called strikes (15) than he had in his first appearance. Three of his final four strikeouts came on offspeed offerings.
"Just the second time out, I felt way more comfortable out there in being able to use my pitches and get ahead a little bit better and work my stuff in counts that I felt comfortable using it in," said Flaherty, ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the organization's No. 3 prospect. "I felt like I executed better today."
Pitching about two hours away from his hometown and in front of more than a dozen friends and family members, Flaherty believed that Solarte's home run actually helped him find a better rhythm. Flaherty followed it with a one-out walk before freezing Erick Aybar on a two-strike curveball.
Flaherty then closed his outing by striking out three in his final frame.
"I feel like even in the beginning of the game, I executed well at points, but I don't think I was really calm," Flaherty said. "I think after the home run and the walk, I was able to settle down and relax."
Flaherty's start continued a run of strong showings by Cardinals starters, who are a combined 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA on the team's 7-2 road trip.
How long Flaherty will remain in the Cardinals' September rotation remains unknown. The Cardinals are monitoring his innings, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak stated previously that an innings increase of 10-20 percent over Flaherty's 2016 total was likely to be the cap.
Flaherty threw 134 innings last season. His total over three levels this year now sits at 153 2/3. Matheny noted, however, that the Cardinals haven't "given me that leash length yet."
Until they do, the right-hander is expected to continue taking the ball every fifth day.
"I feel fresh. I feel pretty good," Flaherty said. "We're just looking to end the season strong, and I'll try to do whatever I can to help the team."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.