PHOENIX (AP) - Washington manager Jim Riggleman calls Jordan Zimmermann's return from reconstructive elbow surgery a work in progress.
The way the right-hander's been pitching over the past month, he's got to be pretty close to being all the way back.
Zimmermann pitched seven impressive innings in his sixth straight solid start and Wilson Ramos helped give him an early three-run cushion, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night.
``I've felt good the whole season and I've just been stringing some good starts together,' said Zimmermann, who had Tommy John surgery in 2009. ``Hopefully, it continues.'
Washington roughed up Arizona starter Zach Duke (1-1) in the first inning and had 13 hits to open an 11-game road trip with its first win in six tries away from Nationals Park.
Ramos matched a career high with three RBIs, Michael Morse had four hits to extend his hitting streak to 11 games and drove in two, and Drew Storen got four outs for his 11th save in 12 chances.
Zimmermann (3-6) was the beneficiary after a frustrating run, allowing six hits to win for the first time in five starts despite allowing three earned runs or less in each.
``I'm happy for him and what he's done for our ballclub, coming from where he did after that surgery and everything, to just keep coming back from it,' Riggleman said. ``He's just a horse.'
Washington's horse put an end to Arizona's comeback ride.
The Diamondbacks had won eight straight one-run games after losing six in a row, the latest coming Wednesday night, when they rallied from a four-run deficit and beat Florida on a game-ending hit.
Arizona couldn't complete another D-back comeback against the Nationals, unable to get many chances against Zimmermann while going hitless in nine at_bats with runners in scoring position.
``We didn't play very good,' Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. ``Not a lot went right for us.'
Zimmermann was solid his last outing, giving up two runs in six innings against San Diego, only to be pegged with the loss after the Nationals managed just one run. He had the Diamondbacks off balance most of the night by keeping the ball down, working around a handful of baserunners over the first six innings without much trouble.
He got some defensive help, too.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa made a diving stop in the outfield grass to rob Miguel Montero of a hit in the fifth inning, then first baseman Morse made a pair of hit-robbing plays in the seventh, ranging left to get a ball by Gerardo Parra and right to snare one along the line by Juan Miranda that scored Arizona's only run.
``Mike Morse saved me big time at first with a couple of diving plays,' said Zimmermann, who also chopped out a pair of singles at the plate.
Duke was stellar in his debut after missing the first two months with a broken hand, throwing seven shutout innings and hitting a three-run homer. That, according to information provided to the Diamondbacks by the Elias Sports Bureau, makes him one of two players - along with Colorado's Jason Jennings in 2001 - since 1900 to throw seven or more scoreless innings and hit a homer in his first with a team.
Duke's encore didn't go so well.
Washington scored three runs off the left-hander in the first inning, one on Morse's hard single up the middle and two more on a double by Ramos that hit high on the extended wall in center. Duke managed to scrape through traffic over the next few innings before giving up another run in the fifth on a fielder's choice by Ramos that made it 4-0.
Duke was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom half after allowing four runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts.
``I wasn't able to command the fastball the way I wanted to,' Duke said. ``It caused me to get into hitter's counts and throw a lot more pitches and more damage was done.'
Washington added a pair of cushion runs in the ninth inning off Aaron Heilman, on Roger Bernadina's run-scoring triple and a bloop single by Morse.
Notes: Ramos' double in the first inning was just his fourth hit in 27 at_bats over nine games. ... Arizona's Kelly Johnson was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts to end an eight-game hitting streak. ... Arizona signed RHP Yhency Brazoban to a minor league contract on Thursday. He will report to Triple-A Reno.
The Associated Press News Service
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