"Pauly has been pitching well for us all season," left fielder Justin Upton said. "It stinks when he goes out and pitches so well and we couldn't push anything across."
While Zimmermann allowed just two hits over eight scoreless innings, Maholm's damage over eight innings was limited to two infield singles and Desmond's fourth-inning home run, which allowed the Nationals to beat the Braves for the first time in six tries this year.
"Two infield hits and the home run," Maholm said. "You get over it. You take the positives and move on."
Adding insult to injury, Desmond said his home run was aided by a tip that a certain former third baseman gave him before Monday's series opener.
"Tonight I just wanted to stay balanced and just make sure I stayed on my legs," Desmond said. "Chipper [Jones] actually told me that. I saw him the other day, sitting behind the screen, and I just thought, 'Stay on my legs.' Good things happen."
In their attempt to win a 10th consecutive game against the Nationals, the Braves were limited to two hits for the third time through this year's first 27 games. They were limited to two hits or fewer just twice all of last year.
Zimmermann retired each of the final 17 batters he faced. The 26-year-old right-hander has surrendered three hits while not allowing a run in the 17 innings that have encompassed his past two starts.
"He's pretty good," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's a guy that commands his fastball. He threw a majority of fastballs tonight, with a couple of sliders. He came after us pretty good."
Zimmermann allowed a two-out single to Justin Upton in the first inning, then saw Maholm find fortune in the third with an opposite-field double that fell in shallow right field. That would mark the end of the threats produced by the Braves, who struck out nine times.
"[Zimmermann] had his fastball going, and he mixed everything in a little bit," Upton said. "For the most part, he was just pounding the zone with his fastball, and we were behind it all night."
In their first five matchups against the Nationals this year, the only starters the Braves faced were Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. They frustrated Strasburg and Gonzalez in the first two games of this four-game set, then saw Zimmermann's mastery hand them their fifth shutout loss of this year.
Zimmermann is now 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA through six starts. This was just the second start he made against the Braves since the start of the 2012 season.
"I stick to the same game plan," Zimmermann said. "Pound the strike zone, get ahead, and let those guys hit my pitches. That's what I did tonight."
Consecutive two-out infield singles in the third inning accounted for the only damage Maholm incurred before he walked Bryce Harper to begin the fourth. Three pitches later, Desmond sent a 1-1 curveball over the wall in left-center.
"It felt OK," Maholm said of the curveball. "I didn't want to throw it for a strike. I wanted it to be low. I get plenty of ground-ball double plays out of it. That is what I was trying to go for. I don't know where it ended up. It might have been belt-high or thigh-high. I wanted it to be below his knees. That way he could roll over it and the guys could make the play for me."
After issuing a two-out walk to Anthony Rendon in the fourth inning, Maholm retired each of the final 13 batters he faced. But after limiting the Nationals to four baserunners and allowing just one hit to leave the infield, the veteran southpaw had nothing to show but a tough-luck loss.
"I can't say I'm happy, because obviously, we didn't win," Maholm said. "I can look at it and say I pitched well enough to win."