ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Lohse was billed as an innings-eater for a needy rotation when the St. Louis Cardinals signed him as a free agent in mid-March. He has also been something of a good luck charm.
Counting the final two weeks of spring training, the Cardinals are 16-2 with the right-hander on the roster after Lohse allowed four hits in seven innings of a 3-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
Lohse credits manager Tony La Russa, who is just as intense watching prospects wrap up a spring training game as he was watching the Cardinals complete a three-game sweep and a 5-1 opening homestand.
"Tony's talked to us about not taking a night off or day off, and I think that's what we've done," Lohse said. "Even in spring training, from what I saw, guys were out there playing the game the right way. We've won some tight games at home, and that's what it takes."
Rick Ankiel hit his third home run for St. Louis, which has won five straight since losing on opening day and is off to its best start since winning seven of eight to start 2000. Despite beginning the season with Joel Pineiro, Mark Mulder, Matt Clement and Chris Carpenter on the DL, the Cardinals' rotation has allowed four runs in 37 2/3 innings, an 0.96 ERA.
In all, the Cardinals have nine players on the DL, the most in the major leagues. Pineiro could be ready by the end of next week, Mulder next month, Clement in mid-May and Carpenter in July.
Lohse (1-0) has thrown 12 scoreless innings in two starts. The Nationals had runners in scoring position in the second and third, and Lohse finished strong, retiring his last nine hitters. He helped himself by throwing first-pitch strikes to 13 of the first 19 hitters, and although he had 10 three-ball counts he walked only one to go with two strikeouts.
"It's one of the things I'm doing a little better at," Lohse said. "I'm throwing the two-seamer and letting it move and letting the guys get themselves out, instead of trying to overpower them and get in trouble that way."
Randy Flores and Ryan Franklin split the eighth, and Jason Isringhausen finished for his third save in three chances. Isringhausen was helped by a leaping catch by Ankiel in center field on a Lastings Milledge drive.
Fourteen Nationals went down in order before Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single in the ninth.
Ankiel has been a big part of the offense, with six RBI on the opening homestand. Yadier Molina had five RBIs and Ryan Ludwick four, and Albert Pujols is batting .353 with eight walks.
A bigger test could be coming for Ankiel, who batted .319 with nine homers and 33 RBI at home last year but only .244 with two homers and six RBI on the road. The Cardinals begin a seven-game trip to Houston and San Francisco on Monday.
"I think he feels the vibe of the fans and he gets excited," La Russa said. "I would never draw that conclusion that he's not going to be a tough out on the road."
Rookie John Lannan (0-1) allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings for the Nationals, who have lost four in a row after a 3-0 start. Washington lost a pair of one-run contests in the first two games of the series and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in the finale.
"That will happen over the course of a season even to the best teams," manager Manny Acta said. "The guys that didn't get it done, didn't get their pitch and didn't get it done. But it's nothing to panic about."
The 23-year-old Lannan was recalled Friday after closer Chad Cordero went on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and made his seventh career start. He was a little nervous and a little rusty working on nine days' rest after being held out of Triple-A Columbus' opener in anticipation of the callup.
"He threw the ball really well," Acta said. "It's a shame we couldn't put anything together."
Brian Barton walked leading off the first and scored on Ankiel's double off the base of the wall in left-center. Ankiel homered with one out in the third, an opposite-field drive to left-center that landed in the first row beyond the power alley. Ludwick tripled to start the eighth off Luis Ayala and scored on Molina's sacrifice fly.
Molina caught Milledge at first to end the first and leads major league catchers with 20 pickoffs since his rookie season in 2005. ... The Nationals have committed only one error, the best defensive start in franchise history. Last year they had seven errors after seven games. ... Cardinals LF Chris Duncan (left hamstring strain) missed his fifth start but La Russa said he could be in the lineup on Monday at Houston. ... The Cardinals swept the Nationals/Expos at home for the first time since a three-gamer from May 2-4, 2003.