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Lohse has another impressive outing, hurling 2-hitter against Nationals

Kyle Lohse is carrying his share of the load again. More than his share, actually.

The right-hander threw a career-best two-hitter for his fourth straight impressive outing on the comeback trail in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5-0 victory Thursday over the Washington Nationals.

Lohse is 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA, distancing himself from two injury-plagued seasons.

“I had some tough times beating myself up, trying to figure out what was going on,” Lohse said. “It feels good to be back in that groove and being successful again.”

Matt Holliday kept his average near .500 with a two-run homer in the first inning and single and Albert Pujols added a two-run homer off Collin Balester in a three-run eighth. St. Louis took two of three from the Nationals and has won eight of 11 overall.

The Nationals are 4-14 at 6-year-old Busch Stadium. The combined Expos/ Nationals franchise has won only two of 16 series in St. Louis dating to 1997.

Lohse struck out six and walked two in his eighth career complete game and sixth shutout, both accomplished last on April 12, 2009, with a three-hitter against Houston.

Lohse has worked at least seven innings in all four starts, moving past a pair of seasons when he was hindered by a forearm injury that required surgery last May, going a combined 10-18 with a 5.54 ERA in 2009-10.

“We’ve seen Kyle like this, this is the guy that won 15 games for us,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He’s been going out there with less than his best and taking his beating at times, so I think he just enjoys having a fair chance.”

Tom Gorzelanny (0-2) kept going the Nationals’ run of fiveinning starts in every game, but had to work for it.

The left-hander walked a batter in each of his first four innings and needed 108 pitches to get through five but was hurt only by Holliday’s second homer with two outs in the first.

“He wasn’t sharp, but he really gutted it out and kept us in the game,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He hurt his own cause by throwing a lot of pitches but that’s the way it is some days.

“You’re not on top of your game, but you still got to keep your team in the game, and he did that.”

Pujols walked with two outs ahead of Holliday’s drive into the Washington bullpen in left on an 0-2 pitch.

Holliday is batting .455, although he doesn’t yet have enough plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders after missing seven games in early April following an appendectomy.

Holliday is 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, a huge change from the start to his first season in St. Louis. Holliday batted .312 with 28 homers and 103 RBI last year — in mid-June, he was sixth on the team with only 25 RBI and batting below .200 with runners in scoring position.

Holliday leads the major leagues with a .532 on-base percentage since returning from the operation.

“He’s in the prime of his career,” La Russa said. “The ball is just jumping off his bat all over the place.”

Lohse retired 11 in a row to start the game before running into his only trouble when Jayson Werth singled and Adam LaRoche walked with two outs in the fourth, giving the Nationals their lone runner in scoring position.

Mike Morse singled leading off the fifth before being erased in a double play and Lohse set down 10 of the last 11.

Pujols hit his sixth homer in the eighth after Colby Rasmus drew a leadoff walk, and David Freese added an RBI double.

The Nationals totaled three runs on seven hits the last two games after scoring 25 runs during a four-game winning streak.

“Right now we’re in a period where they pitched and we didn’t hit,” Riggleman said. “It was only a few days before that we were putting double figures in hits out there.”

Notes: Pujols grounded into his eighth double play in the third, most in the National League. He entered tied for first in the majors. ... Gorzelanny has surrendered four homers in 15 2 /3 innings. ... The Cardinals have used 17 different lineups in 19 games. ... The Nationals optioned C Jesus Flores, their third catcher, to Triple-A Syracuse. During a 10-game stint, Flores appeared in two games and was 1-for-2. ... Holliday and Pujols homered in the same game for the first time this season.

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