PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Kyle Lohse left the team Thursday to return to St. Louis and have the inflamed middle finger on his pitching hand examined by Dr. George Paletta. Lohse was back with the Cardinals on Friday at PNC Park.

"I had a fun day," Lohse said. "Traveling out of New York and getting to St. Louis wasn't bad, but coming back to Pittsburgh made it a long day. But I wanted to get back here with the team so I could at least get a little rest last night instead of waking up early and flying in."

Lohse was pleased with the diagnosis.

"With health issues you have some concern," Lohse stated. "But with the MRI and the report that I got, it kind of alleviates any worry that I'm going to do any further damage. Really it's just inflammation, and we're going to treat it with medication and treatment. I'm good with that and I'm good with that diagnosis. After hearing all that, I feel like I'm good to go.

"There's a lot of relief, because going in, you never know. When something like that is going on in a finger, there are so many different little tendons, and if one of those is torn, then you're dealing with a tricky injury. After they told me that the ligaments and tendons were fine and it was just inflammation and swelling in there, that's kind of what you wanted to hear."

Lohse threw in the bullpen in Pittsburgh on Friday for about 10 minutes and reported no discomfort.

"It was just shorter than a normal bullpen -- about 40 pitches and about 10 minutes," Lohse said. "Everything felt like I thought it would and everything was working, so it was good."

Lohse is 8-7 with a 3.45 ERA this season in 19 starts, but he is 0-3 with a 7.64 ERA in July. He is scheduled to start against the Pirates on Sunday.

"He's got the green light to pitch," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The exam went well and that's good news. He will pitch Sunday."

Punto gets the start at second against Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- Nick Punto handled 10 chances flawlessly for the Cardinals at second base Thursday in New York, including making the pivot on two double plays. He was back in the lineup at second base for Friday night's game in Pittsburgh.

Punto, who has been plagued by a sore right elbow, left last Saturday's game early. He pinch-hit on Sunday but didn't play on Monday or Tuesday. He played as a reserve on Wednesday before getting the start at second base Thursday.

"As far as throwing, they gave Punto a real good workout, and he had a great game yesterday at second base," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We got to do what we need to win, and if he says he can play, you play him and he's been cleared to do it. Second base is easier for him, but his value is he can play short and third as well. The next couple of days Skip Schumaker is going to play second, so we need him to be able to play short and third if we need it, and that's important."

Cards not treating series vs. Bucs any different

PITTSBURGH -- Baseball fever has gripped the Steel City, as the Pirates haven't been atop their division this late in the season since winning the National League East by nine games in 1992.

All three games of the weekend series with the Cardinals are sold out, but the Cards are cautious about getting caught up in the hype.

"If this was the middle of September, it would be a different story," Cards outfielder Lance Berkman said. "It's kind of the middle of July, so you've got better than two months left to play, and heck, who knows how it's going to play out? It's way too early to bill this as a must-win type deal, but we certainly want to play well and we need to win as many games as we can.

"It's not just Pittsburgh -- it's Cincinnati and Milwaukee and it's just a logjam there. These games within the division are important, and you want to play well."

Baby birds

• In the Springfield Cardinals' 8-4 loss to Tulsa in 11 innings, Jose Garcia went 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI and assisted on one double play. Tyler Lyons started and pitched six innings. He allowed four hits, one earned run, one home run and struck out five.

• Quad Cities allowed a season-high 16 runs in a 16-15 loss at Lake County. Oscar Taveras went 3-for-5 with one double, five RBIs and three runs.

• Batavia dropped a 4-2 decision to Jamestown. Garrett Wittels went 2-for-4 with one double.

• The Johnson City Cardinals lost, 7-6, at Kingsport. Tyler Rahmatulla went 4-for-5 with two doubles, two RBIs and one run.

• The GCL Cardinals beat the GCL Astros, 6-5. Brad Watson started and pitched five scoreless innings. He allowed five hits and struck out four.