SAN FRANCISCO -- Jordan Zimmermann wanted to go deep in the game to give Washington's bullpen a rest. He turned in a performance that showed why fill-in manager John McLaren believes the right-hander could one day be the ace of the Nationals' staff.
Less than two years after having Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann pitched seven impressive innings and drove in the tiebreaking run with a safety squeeze to lead Washington over the San Francisco Giants 2-1 on Tuesday night.
"I had a good curve and a good fastball and I felt like I could throw (them) whenever I wanted to," said Zimmermann, who scattered five hits to beat the Giants for the second time this season. "There were a couple hard-hit balls, a couple bloopers that could have fell, but we got good breaks on them."
The game was in stark contrast to Monday night's 4 1/2-hour marathon in several ways.
Washington hit into three double plays and left the bases loaded twice but held on for the win by getting a solid effort from Zimmermann (4-6) and two scoreless innings from the bullpen.
Zimmermann, the 25-year-old righty who had elbow ligament replacement surgery on Aug. 19, 2009, went seven innings to match his career high and had three strikeouts and a walk. He also beat the Giants on May 1 when he pitched six innings and allowed two runs.
McLaren, the bench coach who managed the Nationals while Jim Riggleman served a one-game suspension, didn't flinch when asked if Zimmermann could eventually develop into an ace.
"Absolutely," McLaren said. "The definition of a No. 1 starter, for me, is being able to stop a losing streak and pick your team up. That's what he looked like. He's come back a long way."
Nate Schierholtz doubled in San Francisco's only run in the second.
"We had a tough time scoring runs," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We woke up in the second inning but we couldn't get another hit. The bats got quiet in the later innings."
Aubrey Huff, who made an error in the first inning after colliding with second baseman Freddy Sanchez while chasing Desmond's short popup, tripled leading off the second and scored on Schierholtz's double to left-center to give San Francisco an early lead.
Zimmermann was dominant after that and didn't allow another Giants runner past first base. It marked the sixth time in his last seven starts that Zimmermann has held an opponent to fewer than two runs.
The Nationals' bullpen, which gave up all five runs in Monday's 5-4 loss to the Giants, made a 2-1 lead hold up.
Washington took a 2-1 lead when Rick Ankiel doubled and scored on Zimmermann's bunt in the fourth.
Sanchez (4-4) kept it close and pitched out of another bases-loaded jam in the fifth by striking out Nix, but left with his team trailing by a run. The left-hander had five walks and six strikeouts.
The Giants' bullpen, which combined for eight scoreless innings Monday, blanked the Nationals over the final four innings.
Sanchez has issued 15 walks in his last three starts. ... The Nationals stranded nine runners in the first five innings. ... Washington 3B Jerry Hairston Jr. left the game after complaining of lower back spasms. Hairston was lifted for a pinch-runner after walking to load the bases against Sanchez in the fifth. ... Giants LHP Barry Zito allowed two hits in 6 2/3 innings of a rehab assignment for Class-A San Jose on Monday. Zito, who had six strikeouts and didn't walk a batter, will start against Modesto on Saturday and make one more start in the minors before the team decides whether to activate him from the disabled list. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval homered and drove in four runs in his rehab game with Triple-A Fresno. Sandoval will work out with the big league club in San Francisco on Wednesday before possibly rejoining Fresno. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman, who has missed 54 games since going on the DL with an abdominal injury April 12, singled and doubled in his second rehab game in the minors. ... Bullpen coach Jim Lett served as Washington's pitching coach while Steve McCatty attended his son's high school graduation. McCatty is expected to rejoin the team before Wednesday's game. ... The Giants have sold out all 26 home games so far this season.