Lohse twirls three-hit shutout vs. Astros

Lohse twirls three-hitter

ST. LOUIS -- You almost expected to see Kyle Lohse getting fitted for a green jacket.

Lohse overwhelmed the Astros on Sunday, pitching the fifth shutout of his Major League career as the Cardinals dispensed quickly with Houston in a 3-0 win. He retired 24 batters in order after permitting a leadoff single to Kaz Matsui and finished with a three-hitter. An avid golfer, Lohse completed the feat as the world's best golfers contested the final day of The Masters in Augusta, Ga.

The right-hander was so good that manager Tony La Russa couldn't resist the easy pun.

"He was masterful," La Russa said, then chuckled as his own joke.

It was that kind of game, though -- the kind of showing that turns stoics giddy. Lohse did not walk a batter, and scarcely even surrendered a hard-hit ball. Two ninth-inning singles spoiled his bid for a one-hitter, but they were merely minor blemishes on a dazzling gem. And he did it all against a lineup loaded with batters who have hit him well over the years.

"You've got to give credit to Lohse today," said Carlos Lee, who has raked Lohse like few others. "He was throwing 2-0 changeups for strikes, 3-1 curveballs for strikes. When a guy's so confident with his pitches, it's kind of tough to go out there and just attack, because you never know what you're going to get. He pitched a great game, in and out, soft, hard."

Matsui lined the game's first pitch into left field, but for the most part the Astros were fairly passive in the early innings. Eight of the first 10 batters took the first pitch, which lulled Lohse and catcher Yadier Molina into thinking they could come over the plate more. When they did, Houston's hitters got more aggressive, and Lohse had to adjust again.

It made for an entertaining back and forth, but one where Lohse and Molina were always ahead.

"Early, they were taking some really close ones, and I almost got caught," Lohse said. "I was just missing, and I told Yadi, 'We're going to have to get a little more aggressive, get more of the plate.' Then they started swinging. So it's definitely a cat-and-mouse game where you've got to be ready, and be looking out for what they're trying to do."

Lohse had settled into an easy groove that included a five-pitch fourth inning, when he and his defense suddenly had to do some work. Miguel Tejada tried to bunt for a hit, but Lohse made a tumbling play and strong throw to retire him. Skip Schumaker followed that with an excellent leaping catch on a soft liner by Geoff Blum before things quieted down again.

In addition to his defensive contribution, Lohse also pitched in at the plate. He singled in the third inning and got down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth. The bunt moved Colby Rasmus to second base, and Rasmus came home to score two batters later on Khalil Greene's single.

"That's why I like playing over here [in the National League]," Lohse said. "You feel more a part of the game. You're not just going out there and making pitches. You can contribute with the bunt and hit and be more a part of it, not just a bystander on the offensive side."

It's not just the game that's different in the NL, though. Lohse says he's a different pitcher now, more reliant on a sinking two-seam fastball than a harder four-seamer. He also said he's become more reliant on his curveball in recent years -- though he still doesn't throw it as much as he did when he was first pitching for the Twins in the early part of this decade.

With the new approach and tweaked repertoire, Lohse has found success against some hitters who used to abuse him. For his career, Lee is 19-for-54 with 10 extra-base hits against Lohse, even after an 0-for-3 on Sunday. Ivan Rodriguez fell to 11-for-32 after going hitless. Tejada's 0-for-3 made him 8-for-27 against Lohse.

Most of those numbers, though, were compiled when the players were in the American League. Lohse shut down Houston in 2008, going 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA. Add Sunday's shutout, and it's clear that he's found something new, even against hitters who once tormented him.

"I was a completely different pitcher back then," Lohse said. "I threw pretty much all four-seamers and sliders and mixed in the occasional curve and changeup. Being able to throw the two-seamer down in the zone and getting some ground balls [makes a big difference]. I know I had a lot of fly balls today, but that different look, letting the ball move more, when you make that mistake over the plate, it's not going to be a straight fastball that they're going to crush."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.