You can believe in the idea of momentum and feeding off teammates' performances or not. Just recognize this: Jordan Zimmermann took the mound for the top of the first Wednesday night knowing full well what the four previous men who did the same for the Nationals had accomplished.
Joe Ross, after allowing one run in the second inning Friday, tossed 5 1/3 more scoreless frames before departing. Max Scherzer, of course, no-hit the Pirates on Saturday. Gio Gonzalez didn't give up a run in his seven innings of work Sunday. And then Stephen Strasburg put up five zeroes Tuesday against the Braves.
So what exactly was Zimmermann thinking as he toed the slab this time?
"You see the guy before you go out there and put up zeroes, and you don't want to be the guy that has the big bomb," he said. "So I was trying to do my job and go out there and put up zeroes."
Which is exactly what Zimmermann did. He added eight more to the registry, extended the streak of scoreless innings by Nationals starters to 34 1/3. That's a club record and the longest such streak for the franchise since the 1985 Expos threw 35 2/3 consecutive scoreless frames.
Such is the state of the Nationals rotation these days. Any slip-up, no matter how minor, feels like a failure. Which can put a bit of pressure on each member of the group not to slip up.
Zimmermann didn't on Wednesday, even though he put himself in his share of jams early on. The Braves rattled off five hits through the game's first four innings, and Zimmermann had to strand runners in scoring position in the second, fourth and sixth.
"Early on, I wasn't quite right with the layoff," said the right-hander, who was pitching on two extra days' rest. "After a couple innings, I felt a lot better."
Indeed, Zimmermann finished strong, retiring the last eight Atlanta batters he faced. With his pitch count at 100 and no reason to believe he was about to let up, Zimmermann easily could have taken the mound for the ninth. But with the Nationals clinging to a 1-0 lead and a runner in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the eighth, manager Matt Williams decided to send up pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa instead.
Espinosa wound up lining out to left, the Nationals wound up leaving the runner stranded at second base and closer Drew Storen wound up blowing the save in the ninth, leaving Zimmermann with a hard-luck no-decision.
"We're at that point in the lineup where we've got a guy on second base, and Danny hit a bullet to left and we're trying to score another run," Williams said. "[Zimmermann] is at 100, too, and we've got our closer ready to go. So it didn't work out for Drew tonight, but we'll take that situation every single time."
Zimmermann took no issue with his manager's decision.
"I know [Nick] Markakis is leading off [the ninth for Atlanta] and I feel like his numbers are pretty good against me," he said. "And we have one of the best closers in the game. His role is the ninth inning, so give him the ball and pinch-hit for me and try to get some more runs."
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