MIAMI -- Davey Johnson walked up to Jordan Zimmermann in the dugout at the end of the eighth inning Monday night and had a simple question for his 26-year-old starter: "How do you feel?"
Zimmermann's response to his manager was nearly as simple.
"I'm good to go," he answered. "Let's go get this one."
It's not often that Johnson lets one of his young starting pitchers take the mound for the ninth inning. Shoot, he rarely lets them come back out for the eighth. But the way Zimmermann was cruising against the Marlins -- not to mention the seven-run lead the Nationals held at the time -- convinced the 70-year-old skipper to turn old-school for one night and let his pitcher finish what he started.
And finish it he did, with a flourish. Zimmermann needed all of five pitches to retire the side in the ninth, sealing a 10-3 victory for the Nationals and sealing the first complete-game victory of his career.
Never in his previous 84 big-league starts had Zimmermann been allowed to take the mound for the ninth inning. He did technically record a complete game on June 29, 2011, going eight innings on the road in a 1-0 loss to Dan Haren (of all people) and the Angels in Johnson's third game as Nats manager. This, though, carried more weight for the right-hander.
"It means a lot," he said. "It means I'm doing my job staying in the ballgame and putting up zeroes. That's the kind of pitcher I want to be. I want to be a workhorse and someone that can eat up innings and stay out there as long as possible."
Smiles and cold beverages were abundant inside the vistors' clubhouse at Marlins Park after this one. The Nationals, fresh off a weekend whupping at the hands of the Braves, were able to take out their frustrations on a Miami club that came in with a 2-10 record and then tried to win a game without the services of slugger Giancarlo Stanton (dealing with a sore shoulder).
The Nats already owned a 4-0 lead before Zimmermann ever took the mound, pouncing on lefty Wade LeBlanc, who allowed the game's first six batters to reach safely and ultimately was knocked out in the fourth inning having served up seven runs on nine hits.
Ian Desmond rapped out four of the Nationals' 16 hits, raising his season batting average to .320 from .267 in one night. Ryan Zimmerman belted his first homer of the season and added a two-run single as well, all of this despite a nagging cramp in his left hamstring that left him a bit hampered but not enough to warrant an early exit from the game.
Up as much as 10-0 in this game, the Nationals were able to take a deep breath, forget about their awful weekend against Atlanta and re-affirm to themselves their ability to score runs in bunches.
"I wouldn't say we needed to be calmed down," Zimmerman said. "You know this team as well as I do; we don't really get too out of character or we don't panic too much. ... They took it to us pretty good this weekend. To kind of recover and get off to a good start down here in this series is always good."
The comfortable margin on the scoreboard also allowed Johnson to give his starting pitcher the kind of rope he doesn't often provide. Not that Zimmermann needed much early. He retired the game's first nine batters on a scant 31 pitches and completed the fifth inning having thrown only 48.
"He went out there with a mission," Desmond said. "He was pounding the zone, attacking guys and kind of putting trust in us to play defense behind him."
The Marlins finally got to Zimmermann in the sixth, scoring a couple of runs, and they began to drive up his pitch count in the seventh, adding another run while inducing his one and only walk of the evening.
But the right-hander was all business as he completed his night. He retired the side in the eighth on 14 pitches. Then he retired the side in the ninth on only five pitches.
"I know Davey's limit is right around 100 right now, so when you get close to that your night's almost over," he said. "I just wanted to keep pounding the strike zone all night and working the fastball."
Perhaps the only uniformed member of the Nationals not giddy over Zimmermann's performance was his pitching coach.
"I'm happy for him," Steve McCatty said. "But I don't put a whole lot of stock in it."
McCatty, of course, is a guy who completed 43 of his 161 career big-league starts and once went 14 innings. And took the loss. And then went back out and pitched nine innings in his next start.
So, complete games aren't quite as big a deal to him.
"Well, yeah, and I want them to learn that," McCatty said. "It's nice. It's always fun to get a complete game. You enjoy it, and all that. But I don't want them to think that their job is done after six, seven innings. That's the last thing that I want. They understand, if they keep their pitch count down and their head in the game, they've got a good chance to go deeper in the game. Depending on what the score of the game is at the time, maybe not. That's the whole idea as a starter. That's what you do. That's what you're supposed to do. So it was really good to watch him do it."