I had only seen Kyle Lohse pitch a few times before he became a St. Louis Cardinal.
I knew from his player bio he had a couple of okay seasons with the Twins early in his major league career.
Even then he had a pretty ugly ERA and WHIP.
But he was young, and the Twins thought he had a lot of potential and would progress. But he remained maddeningly inconsistent, and put up mediocre numbers.
He’s been traded twice since becoming a regular in the majors, and was not resigned by the Phillies after finishing the 2007 season with them.
The Cardinals decided to give Lohse a shot in March of 2008. I certainly understood why.
Lohse has a simple, smooth, straight up-and-down delivery with no big leg kick or hitches in his movement. He possesses a variety of pitches: a decent 90-91 mph fastball, a curve, a slider, and a straight change.
The Cardinals needed rotation help at the time, and figured Dave Duncan could work his magic with him. And in that ’08 season, it worked. He had a career year, going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and pitched exactly 200 innings.
He did well under the guidance of Duncan, and pitched for his next contract, which came from the Cardinals. They felt they had seen enough of him to know he would continue to succeed under Duncan, and offered him a 4 year $41 million dollar contract.
Many St. Louis fans worried he would revert to his pre-Cardinal form, and many experts predicted it.
Lohse started the 2009 season well. He went 3-0 in his first five starts with an ERA under 2.00 before having a few bad starts and landing on the DL for the first time in his career.
With 61 starts and an appearance out of the bullpen as a Cardindal to observe him up close, it’s more apparent why he is 84-92 in his career with a 4.69 ERA and a WHIP of 1.41
The tough times and bad breaks get to him.
He was never quite right after that forearm injury last year, and that’s understandable. It’s hard to pitch well when you’re out of rhythm and not completely healthy. The injury was aggravated in the field, and originally occurred after a bunt attempt.
But after hearing him talk about his ’09 season this past spring, there was a bit of a woe-is-me, I-couldn’t-catch-a-break attitude. He chalked up last season to just plain old bad luck.
This season his body language has been bad after every bloop and bleeder that found a hole or a good pitch that was hit. I’ve seen blues singers with better dispositions than Lohse often has on the mound.
Last week in Philadelphia he gave up a three-run, opposite-field homer to Jayson Werth on a good low-and-away pitch. As soon as it cleared the fence, a frustrated look came over his face. He lifted his arms in exasperation and looked very deflated as he went back to the mound.
Now Lohse is only human, and that’s how a lot of people would react. But when you compare it to the reaction of lefty reliever Trever Miller after giving up a home run to Chase Utley on a low-and-away pitch that Utley one armed out to the same part of Citizens Bank Ballpark, it’s very different.
Miller merely pursed his lips, tilted his head and shrugged as if to say, “oh well, it happens,” and moved on.
Lohse only lasted four innings in that game against the Phillies while throwing 105 pitches. When asked after the game about the home run, Lohse commented, "They take advantage of the park. The pitch to Werth was off the plate and away. I thought it was going to be caught, but it just kept going. It was a good pitch, but he hit it out."
Pitching in the majors is all about the mental approach and toughness. Guys with less stuff than Lohse have done more in the majors.
That mental toughness is what John Smoltz said Adam Wainwright lacked as a young pitcher. Even though he’s always had a plus fastball and that big curveball, he lacked the “bulldog attitude” as Wainwright calls it, that it takes to be a starting pitcher in big leagues.
All is not lost for Lohse though. It’s only mid May after all. And much like last season, he has at least been very good at home in comparison to his awful starts on the road.
He has had some bad breaks again this season. Only three of his five runs allowed in Philly were earned. He pitched the day rookie catcher Bryan Anderson made his first career start. If anyone on the staff needs Yadier Molina’s guidance and reassurance it’s Lohse.
He’s had seeing-eye ground balls get through and bloopers drop in. The bullpen blew a 3-1 lead when Lohse left after seven innings and struck out eight batters against the Reds in a game the Cardinals would eventually win.
But he can’t let the tough luck get to him, and he has to display a better attitude and body language on the mound. When he’s rattled, he loses focus and veers from he and Dave Duncan’s game plan.
As Bernie Miklasz pointed out this week, his ground-ball percentage is just over 52 percent this season, down from 61 percent in his 2008 season that earned him his current contract.
If he reverts back to the pitcher he was before Dave Duncan was his pitching coach, he will definitely not be worth $10 million per year. The proper mental approach and game plan is one of the biggest boosts Duncan offers a pitcher. But not every pitcher takes to it.
So Cards fans are left to wonder if Lohse will be more like Jeff Suppan, Joel Pinerio or Woody Williams, or more like Jason Marquis, Kip Wells, or Anthony Reyes.
Maybe Lohse still feels he’s a victim of his lousy luck this season. But a famous, former Cardinal president and manager named Branch Rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design.”
It’s time to be a bulldog out there Lohse, and make your own luck.