Cardinals send Flaherty to the mound in search of a series win over Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Right-hander Jack Flaherty returns to the scene of his major league debut last September when he closes out a four-game series for the St. Louis Cardinals against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday afternoon.

Flaherty (3-4, 3.19 ERA) will attempt not only to give the Cardinals a 3-1 win in the four-game series but to reward manager Mike Matheny with his fifth series win in seven return visits to San Francisco, where he played the final two years of his career.

Matheny has never lost a series as a manager in San Francisco, winning four and tying the other two. He is assured of at least a tie in this one as well, with the Cardinals having posted 11-2 and 3-2 wins sandwiching a 3-2 loss on Friday night.

Flaherty was just 21 years old when he debuted for the Cardinals last Sept. 1 in an 11-6 win in San Francisco.

He did not get credit for the win, going only four innings, during which he was roughed up for five runs and eight hits. He’s thus 0-0 with an 11.25 ERA against the Giants.

Brandon Crawford doubled and homered against Flaherty, and Hunter Pence lashed a two-run triple.

The California native will be seeking to snap a two-game losing streak. He has allowed eight runs and 10 hits in 10 innings in losses to Cleveland and Arizona.

Flaherty will be backed by a Cardinals defense that has been superb against the Giants, having committed just one error in the three games. That lone miscue was an errant throw by backup catcher Francisco Pena on a steal attempt.

“That’s kind of the initiative we have going on right now: bolstering our defense,” Matheny noted Saturday. “Let’s play a cleaner defensive game. And then hope that we get contributions offensively. Let’s figure out ways to make sure we’re catching the ball to help reinforce the great starts that we’ve been getting.”

Luke Weaver, John Gant and Carlos Martinez have provided that pitching in San Francisco. The Giants have totaled just seven runs in the series, extending their streak of scoring three or fewer to six games.

Martinez even contributed an RBI double to Saturday’s win.

The Giants have hit a cumulative .167 in their last six games, five of which they’ve lost.

San Francisco will be counting on ace Madison Bumgarner (1-3, 2.58) to contribute both on the mound and at the plate in the series finale.

The Giants have supported their top starter with just 14 runs in his six starts. He hasn’t helped his own cause; the slugger with 17 career homers has gone 0 for 14 so far this season.

The left-hander has pitched brilliantly in his last three starts, allowing just three runs (two of which were earned) and 12 hits in 21 innings.

Bumgarner often has not been at his best against the Cardinals in his career, going 3-5 with a 4.38 ERA in eight starts. He hasn’t beaten St. Louis since 2014.

One player who has never figured out Bumgarner is Kolten Wong, who has been the big hitter in the series with six hits, including a double and a triple, and two RBIs.

He’s 0 for 9 with two strikeouts in his career against Bumgarner.