SAN FRANCISCO -- Minutes after the Nationals' 2-1 victory over the Giants at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, acting manager John McLaren had high praise for right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who won his fourth game of the season.
McLaren said Zimmermann's performance on the mound was comparable to likes of Roger Clemens, Felix Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Stephen Strasburg and Dave Stieb. Every time they were on the mound, McLaren felt they were going to win the game. Add Zimmermann to that list, according to McLaren. Not bad for a guy that fully recovered from Tommy John surgery a year ago.
"I feel like he is going to give us an opportunity," said McLaren, filling in for regular manager Jim Riggleman, who served a one-game suspension as a result of throwing incidents in Sunday's game vs. the D-backs. "It's not that the other starters don't. Jordan has really stepped up. ... I hear scouts say, 'Oh, my god. We would like to get him.' I say, 'Good luck.'
"His stuff is right there with anybody. That's a compliment to him. ... I'm telling you, this kid has great stuff. He has come a long way."
There is a reason McLaren had high praise for Zimmermann. The bullpen was overused the previous two games, so the Nationals needed Zimmermann to go deep in the game.
Zimmermann did just that. It marked the seventh straight game in which he allowed three runs or fewer. He lasted seven innings and allowed the one run on five hits. Zimmermann could have pitched an extra inning, but McLaren was concerned that he might yank Zimmermann out of the game after one batter.
"We were going to let him go as far as he could, regardless of the score, and he responded great for us," McLaren said. "It wasn't an easy to decision to take him out. I asked how he felt. He said, 'OK.' I didn't want to jerk him after one batter."
The run Zimmermann allowed scored in the second inning. Aubrey Huff, who led off with a triple, scored on a double to left by Nate Schierholtz to tie the score at 1.
"I told myself, let the run score. Shut them down from then on," Zimmermann said.
However, thanks to Zimmermann, Washington broke the tie in the top of the fourth inning off left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. With Rick Ankiel on third, Zimmermann had a sacrifice bunt that allowed Ankiel to score.
Sanchez lasted five innings and allowed two runs on four hits. He struck out six and walked five.
"He went out there and battled," Giants catcher Chris Stewart said. "He threw strikes and got outs when he needed to. It's just one of those nights where we didn't score enough runs. You've got to give credit to [Zimmermann]. He was pounding the zone and got us out. We just didn't put enough runs across the plate tonight."
Zimmermann controlled the game after the second inning. San Francisco didn't have a runner in scoring position in the next four innings. It helped he had a good curveball and slider.
"He stepped up. That's what a No. 1 [starter] does for me," McLaren said. "The definition of a No. 1 starter is: Stop losing streaks and pick your team up. That's what he looked like -- the No. 1 starter. Tough game last night, we bounced back tonight and he pitched great."
When told what McLaren said about him being a No. 1 starter, Zimmermann was humbled and doesn't think about where he stands in the rotation.
"I don't see myself as a No. 1 guy. I see us all as equals. I don't necessarily read into the No. 5 starter or the No. 1 starter," Zimmermann said. "I just go out there and pitch my game. Whatever happens, happens. As long as I'm going every five days and staying healthy are the biggest things for me."
The Nationals' bullpen did the rest after Zimmermann left the game. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen blanked the Giants for the next two innings, with Storen picking up his 12th save of the season.
Is it safe to call Zimmermann the ace of the Nationals' staff right now? The way he has been pitching of late, the answer is yes.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.