ATLANTA — 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."
Desmond said he got some hitting advice earlier in the series from retired Braves star Chipper Jones, who told the Nationals shortstop "to stay on your legs."
"That was a fun game," Desmond said. "We played our style of baseball. Hopefully we can roll with it."
Maholm's last start was one of the worst of his career. He surrendered 10 hits and eight runs in just 3 2-3 innings to the Detroit Tigers. This one was much better, but the outcome was the same.
Another loss, his third in a row after a 3-0 start.
"I gave up two infield hits and a home run," Maholm said. "I've just got to take the positives from it and move on. We can still take this series with a win tomorrow. That's the important thing."
Harper had to leave the game in the middle of the sixth after tweaking his left side on a check swing, which was actually the holdover from a bruise he sustained the previous night slamming into the wall trying to catch Tim Hudson's home run.
Harper completed the at-bat, grounding out sharply to first, but headed to the clubhouse after talking with Johnson and the training staff. He was listed as day to day.
Roger Bernadina finished out the game in right field.
"It got to the point where I couldn't breathe real quick," Harper said. "I had to catch my breath and it didn't feel very good."
Harper iced his side and got treatment. He hopes to be back in the lineup on Thursday.
"If I can play," he said, "I'm going to play. I can tolerate pain. Hopefully nothing will keep me out of the lineup."
The free-swinging Braves, close to a record pace for strikeouts, could only take solace from ending their streak of six consecutive games with at least 10 Ks. Soriano fanned one in the ninth, leaving the Braves with nine strikeouts on the night.
"That's what we're billed as," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Teams that aren't striking out are probably complaining they don't have any power."
Notes: Strasburg experienced no pain during a bullpen session before the game and is expected to make his next scheduled start at Pittsburgh on Saturday. ... Washington OF Jayson Werth (bruised ankle, strained hamstring) missed his second straight start. ... Hudson was still savoring his memorable game Tuesday night, when he not only homered but picked up his 200th career win. Hudson said his son, Kade, was really excited about the long ball. "He says all I do is bunt," Hudson quipped. ... Uggla, B.J. Upton and Juan Francisco each struck out twice for the Braves. ... Braves RHP Kris Medlen (1-3) will start the finale of the four-game series, going against Washington RHP Dan Haren (2-3).
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