SAN FRANCISCO — As Jordan Zimmermann prepared for his start Tuesday night, he kept in mind the Washington Nationals' bullpen. Having played 24 innings in the past two nights and using 11 relievers, Zimmermann thought, "I've got to go deep in this ballgame."
When he left Tuesday night's 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants after seven strong innings, he had given the Nationals a much-needed lift and put them in position for a bounce-back victory.
"For me, the definition of a No. 1 starter is to stop losing streaks and pick your team up," said bench coach John McLaren who served as acting manager Tuesday night with Jim Riggleman serving a one-game suspension. "That's what he looked like — a No. 1 starter.
"I've been fortunate to be around Roger Clemens and Dave Stieb and Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez," McLaren said. "And when you go to the ballpark, you have a feeling those guys are going to win. I definitely feel that about Jordan. ... His stuff is as good as anybody in the league. I hear scouts say, 'Oh my God, we'd like to get him,' and I say 'Yeah, good luck. Good luck.' "
It was in an inauspicious start Tuesday night. He surrendered a leadoff triple to Aubrey Huff in the second inning and then saw Nate Schierholtz take a low, outside changeup off the base of the wall in center field for an RBI double. But Schierholtz was the last San Francisco runner to reach second base all night.
"I told myself, 'Let that run score and shut them down from there,' " Zimmermann said. "And that's what I did. Last year and the year before that, I probably would have got a little rattled in that situation, made some more mistakes and left balls over the middle. This year I'm telling myself, 'Let that one run score and don't let any more score after that.' "
It was an adjustment that helped Zimmermann notch his seventh straight quality start with a blend of effectiveness and efficiency. He struck out only three but needed just 91 pitches to get through seven innings.
He also benefited from sterling defense, an aspect of the Nationals' game that has become an asset. They've committed 22 fewer errors through 61 games this season than they did last year.
"The defense this year is hands down better than last year," Zimmermann said. "You feel like you can make them put the ball in play, and you're confident they're going to make a play behind you every time."
The right-hander hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in an outing since giving up three to the Atlanta Braves on May 12.
"I think he's really just starting to realize how good he is," said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who drove home the game's first run with a single in the third. Zimmermann brought in what proved the game-winner one inning later on a suicide squeeze that scored Rick Ankiel.
Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen followed Zimmermann with two scoreless innings of relief to seal their starter's fourth win of the season and the Nationals' 27th.
"He's not backing down from anybody, which is good," Desmond added. "He's pounding the zone, he's using his fastball and he's locating his fastball, which is more important. ... It's just something that, as I'm getting better and as we're all getting better, it's fun to watch the pitching staff feed off what we're doing and we're feeding off what they're doing."
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