The Washington Times - June 18, 2011, 06:37PM

Jordan Zimmermann threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed two earned runs and got his team on its way to its eighth straight victory.

He also fell behind often, pitched just two 1-2-3 innings and termed his own effort a “battle” where he didn’t have his best stuff and “had a tough time throwing strikes with my fastball.”

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If that’s what a bad start for Zimmermann looks like, the Nationals will gladly bear with him. 

“Today was hard work for him,” said catcher Ivan Rodriguez. “He was falling open a little bit with his left shoulder and throwing the ball across a little bit. He got behind in the count to a lot of guys — but that’s how good he is.

“He can come back and challenge everybody with the fastball and still hitters get late with his fastball the way he throws. He did good. For the way that he was today, the way he just fought and fought and fought to try to get his mechanics back on track, I think he did tremendous today.”

As Zimmermann continues his maturation process — and seemingly becomes one of the best starters in the National League — there will certainly be starts like these. But for as much as Zimmermann lamented his outing, he still only allowed two runs and only had to deal with more than one runner on base in three innings. 

The key, though, came in the fourth.

Before the Nationals bats broke a 1-1 tie and Michael Morse’s 13th home run of the season helped them to a 4-2 victory, the Orioles looked poised to make their own noise. They had men on first and third with one out and Zimmermann got ahead of Reynolds 0-2 but seemed to labor and missed with a fastball up. Rodriguez came out for a chat and to allow his right-hander a breather on a warm day at Nationals Park.

Reynolds worked the count full, dodging two high fastballs, but Zimmermann came back with 94 mph heat moving up over the middle of the plate to get him swinging. One ground out later by Robert Andino and the Orioles threat was over. From there, Zimmermann rolled a little easier.

“I just told myself I’m not going to walk this guy,” Zimmermann said. “I got to 3-2 and the right pitch might have been the slider away. He tends to chase the slider. We went with the fastball and I said ‘Just get it over, don’t walk this guy and cause more of a jam in this inning.’ I threw it up a little bit and he chased it.

“That was a big part of the game right there. I got out of it and then we got that home run and I was a little more relieved with the lead.”

Zimmermann has reeled off a string of starts so impressive that there are a limited number of superlatives left to describe the right-hander. He hasn’t thrown less than six inning since April 26 and he hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs (which he’s done just once) since then either. Heading into Saturday, his last three starts alone had all been at least seven innings where he’d allowed one earned run or less. 

Saturday wasn’t a dominating outing like the ones that have come to be expected out of Zimmermann but he was good enough to get the win and he was the first to say that was all that mattered.