The Cardinals right-hander picked up his first win of the year on Monday night, pitching six-plus effective innings to help the Cardinals beat the Nationals, 6-2, at Busch Stadium. As a tool for analysis, pitcher wins have rightly lost a good deal of luster. For the pitcher himself, though, getting off of zero is no small feat.
"It feels good," Lohse admitted. "It felt like I could have won a couple other games, but that's the way it goes. It's great to get the first one, even though it is late May."
Lohse had to sweat a little for it, though. Staked to an early 4-0 lead, he didn't get any more run support until the eighth, when he was out of the game. And after allowing the first two batters to reach in the top of the seventh, he was removed and had to watch his bullpen navigate a very tight spot.
It worked out, though, and Lohse got into the win column.
"I think it's huge," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's where you start your season. It's May 15, would be better April 15. He's had a couple extra chances. But there's still a lot of starts to go."
Lohse rebounded from a rocky previous start that had fans calling for him to be removed from the rotation. In that game, he was roughed up for nine runs, four earned, by an underpowered Houston offense. Six days before, he was chased after giving up five runs, three earned, in four frames. On Monday, he looked more like himself.
It started with something simple, arguably the simplest, most elemental key for any pitcher: fastball command. Lohse had been missing his spots with his fastball, putting him into bad spots. On Monday, he threw 54 of his 85 pitches for strikes, and he got his fastball down in the zone. Everything else flowed from there.
"That was basically it," Lohse said. "That was the biggest thing that has been getting me in trouble: not getting it down, falling behind with it and then having to throw other pitches for strikes. When you command the fastball and get ahead with it, then you can throw the other pitches [to guys to] chase. Guys aren't going to know what to look for.
"When you're behind and you throw the offspeed, you've got to throw it for a strike. So it's not going to be as sharp as you want it. That's kind of been what's going on."
An offense that had been starved for a big hit, meanwhile, got three of them in a row in the first inning. After Matt Holliday walked and Albert Pujols singled with two outs to extend the first, Colby Rasmus singled in Holliday for a quick lead. David Freese then drove a two-run triple to right, and Yadier Molina's bloop RBI single capped the rally against Washington starter Craig Stammen.
"I kick myself for having a two-out walk," Stammen said. "Once that happens then you have to face Albert, and he's the best hitter in the league. I left a couple pitches up. A bloop there and a broken bat there and they've got four runs."
Washington closed the gap to 4-2 in the fifth, and the seventh opened with Adam Kennedy reaching on Skip Schumaker's error on a ball that stuck in Schumaker's glove. When Ian Desmond singled, La Russa went to his bullpen. Trever Miller got two outs on a sacrifice and a popup, bringing up the top of the order.
Washington manager Jim Riggleman replaced Willie Harris with Alberto Gonzalez, and La Russa countered with righty Jason Motte. But Riggleman had an ace in the hole, and he summoned slugger Adam Dunn, who had been held out of the starting lineup. Motte fanned Dunn, though, ending the threat. Ryan Ludwick's spectacular diving catch ended the eighth before St. Louis added two runs in the bottom of the inning.
St. Louis had lost five of its previous six games and nine out of 12. The Cardinals remain one-half game behind the first-place Reds, who beat Milwaukee.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.