Lohse honored to give it his all in opener
Under the radar, veteran Cardinals right-hander had stellar '11
JUPITER, Fla. -- Perhaps it is appropriately fitting that the original schedule never had Kyle Lohse's name on top. Rather, the Cardinals' script was to be highlighted by storybook symmetry.
Chris Carpenter -- the veteran right-hander who went 4-0 last postseason, with wins in two elimination games -- would throw the defending World Series champions' first pitch. Wednesday would be his night, one in which he'd do all he could to upstage the christening of a new ballpark.
But those seemingly perfectly laid plans were smudged by setbacks, the latest a diagnosis of nerve irritation for Carpenter that will keep him from making a start any time during the month of April.
And so, Lohse will step in.
But to assume that this Opening Day start comes attached with an asterisk would be slighting Lohse. In a sport where an Opening Day start is often handed to the pitcher with the best regular-season results the year before, Lohse is as deserving as any.
In fact, he is the answer to a pair of 2011 Cardinals trivia questions that few seem to get right on first try. Lohse joked that he suspects some in his clubhouse would even need several guesses.
Who led the rotation in ERA? That would be Lohse, with his figure of 3.39.
And wins? Lohse again. His total of 14 ranked ninth in the National League.
"I don't put up the sexy, fancy numbers," Lohse said. "I don't strike guys out. But I've become a better pitcher because I don't do that. Last year, I went through a tough stretch in the middle there, and I think stuff like that is what sticks in peoples' heads. They don't remember what I did in September. They think that I finished the season struggling."
There remains some lingering confusion when Lohse tries to explain why former manager Tony La Russa toyed with his pitching schedule during one stretch last summer. But there's seemingly no bitterness when Lohse references the overall lack of recognition.
In his perspective, the quiet success he had last year is very much a microcosm of his journey thus far.
"I've been that way my whole career," Lohse said. "I don't play this game for acknowledgements or things on the outside. I play this for my teammates and myself. It's a pride thing. I just care about what the 24 other guys think about me, and I give it all I've got every time I go out there."
An 11-year Major League veteran, the 33-year-old Lohse has spent much of his career pitching in the shadow of others. He has not made his career on being overpowering, nor has he ever been a headliner on a pitching staff. In fact, with a healthy Carpenter, most would probably slot Lohse into the No. 4 or 5 spot in the Cardinals' 2012 rotation.
That's fine by him. He's simply grateful to be back in such discussion.
St. Louis Cardinals
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
"When I was going through those injury issues," Lohse said, "there was really a question of how I'd come back. To even be in the conversation to pitch a season opener feels good. There was a lot of hard work that went into making my arm work again. It's paying off."
A right forearm injury cost Lohse more than a month of the 2009 season. Surgery for the same issue the next year limited Lohse to 18 season starts. He entered '11 still wary of how his arm would hold up during the stress of a full-season workload.
Those questions and concerns were erased over the course of his 30-start season, leaving Lohse free of injury concerns when he reported to Spring Training in February. The combination of uncompromised health and peace of mind allowed Lohse to spend camp focused not just on sustaining, but improving.
He experimented with a new curveball before finding that his old one was even sharper when he reverted back to it for good in mid-March. The opportunity to pitch a full slate of Grapefruit League games provided time for Lohse to approach each start with a specific intent.
It all culminated in a strong six-inning start on Friday, an outing that served as Lohse's final dress rehearsal before he begins the final year of his current four-year contract with St. Louis.
"We're excited about the kind of season he can put together," manager Mike Matheny said. "He has looked real good."
Lohse has made an Opening Day start before, but this is the first one preceded by ample prep time. In 2008, Lohse started the season opener only because the scheduled one was rained out before the game had become official. He pitched five scoreless innings in that game, a springboard for the 15-win season that followed.
This year, the bar is set even higher.
"I don't think you're ever satisfied with that," Lohse said. "If you get satisfied with this game, you're going to find yourself looking for a job. I've been around enough superstars that I know they didn't get there by being complacent. They're always working to improve. That's always how I'll be in my career."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.