ATLANTA - Twice already this season, Jordan Zimmermann has taken the mound with the Nationals riding a three-game mini losing streak and gotten things back on track.
Tonight, it was eight stellar, two-hit innings from Zimmermann that propelled the Nats to a 2-0 win over the Braves, their first victory against Atlanta in their last 10 tries.
"We needed that one bad and he went out there and pitched a blueprint game," manager Davey Johnson said. "That was outstanding. Some good fastball hitters and he just came right at 'em. He could throw any of his pitches over about any time. It was just a great game."
Zimmermann has now thrown 18 straight scoreless innings. Over that span, he's allowed three hits and just two walks, striking out 14.
Tonight, Zimmermann surrendered just two hits and struck out eight. He threw 39 pitches in his first two innings, working deep into a few counts, but his fastball location improved as he settled into the outing. He finished his start having retired the last 17 hitters he faced, throwing 107 pitches over eight fantastic frames. His ERA now stands at 1.64.
"I'm very proud, happy with the way the season has started," Zimmermann said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to the defense, they've been doing great. I haven't been striking many guys out. Tonight I had seven or eight, I think. I'm letting them put the ball in play and letting them make plays behind me.
"I feel great. (Catcher Kurt Suzuki) and I have been on the same page pretty much every start. Everything he put down tonight, I was thinking about throwing before he put the fingers down. So it's definitely easy when you and the catcher or on the same page."
Zimmermann kept the Braves on their toes, throwing all four of his pitches in a variety of counts. He threw predominantly fastballs tonight, obviously, but mixed in 19 sliders, 15 curveballs and four changeups, according to Brooks Baseball.
In the fifth inning, Zimmermann struck out the side, using three different pitches to put the hitters away. He got Dan Uggla swinging on a changeup, B.J. Upton on a fastball and then Juan Francisco on a curve. Zimmermann being that effective with all of his pitches allowed Suzuki to really open the book up and call whatever he wanted in any count.
"The biggest thing is getting back into the count," Suzuki said. "If he does fall behind, knowing he has his other three pitches to get back in the count, and we can throw either one of them, definitely makes it a lot easier and makes it a lot harder on the other team knowing that he could do that. They can't just sit on one pitch to get back into the count. I think when he has all those working, he's definitely got a couple extra dimensions to him."
The Nationals didn't need a win tonight, but it sure helps lighten the mood a bit. The familiar postgame music was blasting through the speakers in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field, the first time since Saturday we've heard those tunes. Zimmermann's performance helped bring those good vibes back.
"You want to be a stopper, that's for sure," Zimmermann said. "We had been struggling the last couple games, and I wanted to go out there and go as deep as I can and try to get a win and stop this losing streak."
Finally beating the Braves was a nice touch, as well.
"It was nice to beat 'em once this year," Johnson joked.
Ian Desmond provided the offense with a two-run homer in the fourth, and he provided an interesting perspective on what this win means in a bigger picture.
"I think it's reassuring to see that we're getting better every day," Desmond said. "I think we want to continue to get better until the postseason comes. We want to be playing our best baseball when it's most important. We won 98 games last year, we were great, whatever. When it came down (to it), we didn't play that great. We want to continue to build until it really matters."
On a separate note, Johnson said after the game that X-rays on Jayson Werth's sore left ankle came back negative. If Werth's ankle is improved tomorrow and his hamstring cramps are no longer an issue, Johnson said Werth might be able to return to the Nats' lineup after missing the last two games.