Lohse is 5-8 with a 4.62 ERA in the first injury-plagued year of his career, twice landing on the 15-day disabled list. The right-hander believes the second stint on the DL, for a minor groin injury, might have helped him shake off mechanical issues related to a forearm injury that sidelined him for the first time.
The Cardinals had Matt Holliday in the lineup for Friday night's game against the Braves after a much more minor injury. Holliday bruised his left knee in a tumble after catching his spikes in the chalk line beyond first base.
"He had a little swelling and thought he'd be ready today," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's ready today."
The Cardinals signed John Smoltz last month with plans on giving him a few starts and then plugging him into the bullpen in the playoffs. But the 42-year-old Smoltz has exceeded expectations, going 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in his first four outings with St. Louis.
He's tailed off a bit after allowing one run in 11 innings his first two starts, allowing seven runs in 11 innings the last two starts. A strong finish could force Lohse, a 15-game-winner last year, to the bullpen for the postseason.
"I'd like to start but it's not up to me," Lohse said. "I'm just looking forward to some October baseball. I'll help out whatever way I can."
Lohse threw one inning of relief on Tuesday in his first appearance since coming off the DL, and the start will be his first since Aug. 21. He had thought he'd be in the bullpen longer or could have made a rehab start, but expects to be close to a typical pitch count load against the Braves.
"I know he's feeling strong and healthy, and now we'll see how sharp he is," La Russa said. "I know he's excited to get out there."
Lohse was 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA after throwing eight shutout innings against the Royals on May 23. While squaring to bunt he was struck in the right forearm by Kansas City reliever Ron Mahay in the bottom of the eighth and hasn't been the same since.
Lohse missed one turn and then aggravated the forearm injury in his next outing, lasting only two innings and going on the DL. He was 1-2 with a 7.00 ERA in August.
"Coming back from something like that, I don't think the muscles were working properly and I was trying to force the issue and got kind of out of whack mechanically," Lohse said. "That was something I really worked on that last little time off, trying to get consistent."
Now, he jokes, he's the most well-rested pitcher on the staff. Lohse has had so much idle time there's a mohawk hairdo under his cap.
"I'm going to roll with it for a while," Lohse said. "I think that's what so much down time will do to you."