ATLANTA (AP) — With apologies to Stephen Strasburg and 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez, the Washington Nationals appear to have a new ace of their pitching staff.
Jordan Zimmermann has been downright dominant.
The right-hander turned in another dazzling performance with two-hit ball over eight innings, Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer in the fourth and the Nationals finally beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0 Wednesday night.
"Everything was working," Zimmermann said. "I felt great."
The Braves had won five in a row this season over their NL East rival, and nine straight dating to last season.
"We needed that one bad and he went out and pitched a blueprint game," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought he was one of the elites last year. We just didn't give him a lot of run support.
Zimmermann (5-1) made sure that streak ended, striking out eight and allowing only one runner past first base — fellow pitcher Paul Maholm, who was nearly as stifling for the Braves.
The only Atlanta hitters to reach against Zimmermann were Justin Upton, who singled with two outs in the first, and Maholm, who doubled into the right-field corner in the third.
Zimmermann struck out eight and retired 17 straight Atlanta hitters before giving way to Rafael Soriano, who worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save.
The Nationals snapped a three-game losing streak and got back to .500 for the season.
"He pounded that fastball all night long," Upton said. "We just couldn't get it going."
Zimmermann was coming off perhaps the best pitching performance in the Nationals' nine-year history, a one-hitter for a 1-0 victory over the Reds. This one was nearly as good.
The first-place Braves couldn't do anything against the right-hander, who seemed primed for his second straight shutout until manager Davey Johnson went to the bullpen, not wanting to put any more wear and tear on Zimmermann after he threw 107 pitches — 72 for strikes.
That was about the only thing that didn't go Zimmermann's way, costing him a shot at his third complete game in the last four starts.
"That was one of my tougher hooks," Johnson conceded. "What a great effort."
Maholm (3-3) came close to matching Zimmermann. He allowed only three hits in eight innings, retiring the last 13 batters he faced.
But Desmond provided all the runs Washington needed, homering to left-center on a 1-1 curveball after Bryce Harper led off the fourth with a walk.
"Paul pitched a great game," said Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. "We just couldn't get him any runs. Ian took advantage of the only mistake Paul made. We didn't take advantage of anything."