ST. LOUIS -- A day after pitching 10 innings over two games, the Cardinals' bullpen needed a break. Kyle Lohse delivered.
Lohse turned in one of the finest performances of his big league career, breezing to a shutout as St. Louis beat Washington, 5-0, in the finale of a three-game series at Busch Stadium on Thursday. He held Washington to two singles and two walks as he continued his resurgence a year after forearm surgery.
It was Lohse's first shutout since April 12, 2009, four weeks before he suffered the right forearm injury that compromised him for nearly two full seasons. Now fully healthy, he's off to a start reminiscent of the ones he managed in 2008 and '09.
"We've seen Kyle like this," manager Tony La Russa said. "This is a guy that won 15 games for us. I think he's just pleased that he's going out there with weapons to compete that give him a fair chance. He's been going out there with less than his best and taking his beating at times. I think he just enjoys having a fair chance."
A pair of two-run homers provided the offense for the Cardinals, who were kept mostly quiet themselves in a quick, well-played game. Matt Holliday roped a two-run shot in the first inning, and Albert Pujols added insurance with a two-run jack in the eighth. A David Freese RBI double completed the scoring.
Nationals starter Tom Gorzelanny kept the Cards' hit count down, but hurt himself with walks. He issued four free passes over five innings, hastening his departure from the game, and one walk in particular cost him dearly.
With two outs in the first, Gorzelanny walked Pujols, and Holliday jumped an 0-2 pitch from the left-hander. Holliday drove it 388 feet to left field for his first home run since Opening Day. In the eighth, Colby Rasmus walked against Collin Balester, and Pujols followed with his sixth homer of the season. A day earlier, Pujols had seen two balls die at the warning track in center, but on Thursday he left the yard.
"It's part of making adjustments," he said. "I hit two balls to center, so I figured today I had to pull it. The game is about making adjustments. I made an adjustment and I pulled the ball."
In between the two homers, the Cardinals went six innings without a run, but it didn't matter. Two runs were more than enough offense for Lohse. He was clinically efficient, finishing with 111 pitches despite a somewhat challenging ninth. He retired the first 11 Nationals batters and was scarcely challenged.
Over the entire course of the game, Washington hitters had one plate appearance with a runner in scoring position -- Ian Desmond grounded into a force play with runners on first and second and two out in the fourth. Other than that, Lohse simply cruised. He tallied the sixth shutout of his Major League career and his eighth complete game.
"He worked quick," said Washington outfielder Jayson Werth. "He kept the ball down, made pitches. I've seen Kyle a lot over the years. It's probably the best I've seen him pitch. He had good stuff today. Unfortunately, we weren't able to put anything together."
Lohse used the full assortment of his pitches and threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 31 batters he faced. He showed impressive command and stuff, just as he did in a breakout 2008 and the first part of 2009 before he was injured.
"I've been able to go out there and do the things that I want to do," he said. "It's a great feeling. I feel like I'm back in that mode where I was before all the injuries and all that stuff."
The Cardinals have won three straight series and eight of their last 11 games. They improved to 10-9, equaling their season-best mark at one game over .500, and remained tied with the Reds atop the National League Central. The two rivals begin a series at Busch Stadium on Friday night.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.