"This one's a little bit better," Zimmermann said. "For sure."
It was better for a number of reasons. Zimmermann went the distance on 103 pitches in picking up the win -- his third in as many starts this season -- he saved a taxed bullpen and he helped the Nationals bounce back after a rough weekend in which they were swept and outscored, 18-5, by the Braves.
"It means I'm doing my job staying in the ballgame and putting up zeros. That's the kind of pitcher I want to be," said Zimmermann, who struck out six, walked a batter and scattered six hits. "I want to be a workhorse and someone that can eat up innings and stay out there as long as possible."
He did just that, tossing Washington's first complete game since Gio Gonzalez threw two last August.
The right-hander was efficient early, needing only 48 pitches to get through the first five innings. He didn't permit a runner to get on base until the fourth and faced the minimum until the sixth. When the Marlins finally got to him, he battled through it and let his defense do the job behind him. And when he had made 98 pitches after eight innings, he and manager Davey Johnson knew it was time for him to finish what he started.
"It's nice. It's always fun to get a complete game. You enjoy it and all that. But I don't want them to think that their job is done after six, seven innings," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "They understand, if they keep their pitch count down and their head in the game, they've got a good chance to go deeper in the game. ... That's the whole idea as a starter. That's what you do. That's what you're supposed to do. So it was really good to watch him do it."
Zimmermann felt more comfortable pitching with a lead, and the lineup certainly gave him one, jumping out to a four-run lead in the first inning before tacking on six more over the third, fourth and fifth frames. Shortstop Ian Desmond led the way with four hits, including two doubles, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman blasted his first homer of the year, igniting an offense that was shut out, 9-0, on Sunday.
"I wouldn't say we needed to be calmed down," Zimmerman said. "We don't really get too out of character, or we don't panic too much. ... [The Braves] took it to us pretty good this weekend. To kind of recover and get off to a good start down here in this series is always good."
Washington's first six batters reached base against lefty Wade LeBlanc. Denard Span singled to lead off the game, and that was followed by a single from Jayson Werth and a walk by Bryce Harper. Zimmerman drove in Span and Werth with a single up the middle, but Harper was thrown out trying to go from first to third. That hardly slowed the Nationals, as Desmond doubled to the left-field corner and Tyler Moore knocked a two-run single to left.
"I executed a lot of pitches. And the pitches that I missed with, they made me pay," LeBlanc said. "This is a good game to just throw away and move on."
The Nationals put up two more runs against LeBlanc in the third on back-to-back-to-back doubles by Desmond, Moore and Steve Lombardozzi. And Zimmerman, playing with a sore left hamstring, made it 8-0 in the fourth, crushing the first pitch he saw from reliever John Maine an estimated 387 feet into the Clevelander bar in left field. Span made it 10-0 in the fifth inning with a two-run single that scored Lombardozzi and Kurt Suzuki.
The Marlins finally broke through in the sixth. Zimmermann hit Donovan Solano with a pitch, and Solano moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Maine. Juan Pierre dropped a bloop double just over Zimmerman to score Solano. Pierre then came around to score on Chris Coghlan's single to shallow right field. Catcher Rob Brantly drove in the Marlins' third run an inning later with a ground-ball single to right, scoring Greg Dobbs.
That was as bad as it got for Zimmermann, who pitched a perfect eighth and retired the final three batters on just five pitches. And with that, he'd gone the distance and put a rough weekend in the Nationals' rearview mirror.
"We don't live in the past. We don't worry too much about things," Johnson said. "We take it one day at a time, and this was a perfect example."