MILWAUKEE -- Jordan Zimmermann is about as even-keeled as possible on the mound, but he admitted he was a little excited to start in front of family and friends in his home state of Wisconsin for the first time on a beautiful Saturday evening at Miller Park.
His fanbase was amped up about it, too. They started tailgating around 3 p.m. and broke out the shirts they planned to wear in 2009, when Zimmermann was scheduled to pitch here before he had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
"I just didn't want to go out there and have a terrible outing," said Zimmermann, a native of nearby Auburndale, Wisc.
He didn't. Zimmermann did what he's done so well and so often this season, holding the Brewers to just one run over six innings -- his 19th quality start of the year -- as the Nationals rode three homers to a 4-1 win before a sold-out crowd of 41,890, at least 45 of whom were there for Zimmermann. The win boosted the Nationals back into a tie for the Majors' best record with the Yankees and Reds, and 100 games into the season, they're 20 games above .500.
"It was definitely awesome. A dream come true to pitch in front of my family and friends, and everyone who came out to watch," he said. "I'm just glad I gave them a good showing."
Saturday was Zimmermann's seventh straight start with at least six innings pitched and one earned run allowed or fewer, and he has pitched at least six innings in all 21 of his starts in 2012. He needed only 93 pitches to get through six innings, and Nationals manager Davey Johnson let his bullpen take it from there.
But there was another reason Johnson cut Zimmermann's night short, the same reason Washington's skipper has been especially careful watching the right-hander's pitch count and workload lately. Zimmermann has had some trouble getting loose before his last few starts, feeling "little aches and pains" in his shoulder while playing catch.
Zimmermann downplayed the issue, saying it's something every pitcher goes through a few times per season. Once he gets warmed up, he shows no signs of any pain or stiffness. He showed that perfectly well once again Saturday night. But Johnson wants to play it safe with his young pitching staff.
"He's fine, but it concerns me sometimes when they have a little trouble getting loose," Johnson said. "Anytime any little thing goes on like that, it concerns me."
Zimmermann cruised through most of the evening and only had to work his way out of trouble twice, once in the third and again in the fourth.
Milwaukee had runners on second and third with two outs in the third, but Zimmermann got Ryan Braun to ground out to Ryan Zimmerman at third. Zimmermann had Braun's number all night, striking him out the other two times they faced each other.
The Brewers got to Zimmermann in the fourth, when Aramis Ramirez doubled and scored on Rickie Weeks' single to right, and had two runners on with only one out. But Cody Ransom bounced a grounder to Zimmerman at third, and Steve Lombardozzi made the turn at second base to complete the 5-4-3 double play.
Zimmermann had plenty of support from his personal cheering section in the crowd, but the Nationals lineup helped him out as well. After mustering only four hits Friday night and none through three innings Saturday, Washington launched three homers off of Brewers lefty Randy Wolf -- more than enough for Zimmermann to pick up his eighth win while he lowered his ERA to 2.28.
"You couldn't afford to make any bad pitches today. There's really no wiggle room when you got Zimmermann, who's probably the most underrated pitcher in baseball," Wolf said. "He really goes under the radar, but he's got great numbers. Going into this game, you have to be almost perfect to either get a no-decision or win because that's how good he is."
Tyler Moore launched a two-run blast in the fourth, and Ryan Zimmerman crushed a solo shot in the fifth.
But the first of the homers given up by Wolf came off the bat of Corey Brown, his first Major League hit. The 26-year-old was a late entry into the starting lineup, replacing Bryce Harper, who was scratched due to a stomach virus. He took advantage of the rare opportunity, lofting a solo shot to left-center field to lead off the fourth inning.
Brown had the ball in a glass case on a shelf in his locker right after the game and said it will soon be heading to his mother in Tampa, Fla. He tried to hide his excitement as he trotted around the base, but figured he didn't have much success doing so.
"I'm pretty sure I started smiling when I got to about second base. It's a great feeling to be able to get that first one," he said. "Hopefully, whenever I get back in the game, I can just help contribute once again."