WASHINGTON -- Washington right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has been pitching well against nearly every team he has faced.
He has done especially well against some of the top-hitting teams in the Major Leagues and he continued that trend on Wednesday as he beat the Detroit Tigers 3-1 in the first game of a two-game series.
"I didn't feel as good as I have in the past," said Zimmermann, who improved to 6-1. "The curve ball wasn't very good. The slider was very good today and the fastball was good so we stuck with that."
In his last home start he threw a one-hitter and beat the Reds in a complete-game effort.
Zimmermann was slated to start on Tuesday but the game was rained out. Then Wednesday's game was delayed almost one hour by rain and began at 8:02 p.m. EST.
"I was ready for 7 o'clock and I got pushed back a little bit," he said. "But overall it was a good start. I take pride every time I go out there" no matter the opponent.
The Nationals (18-15) beat Detroit for the first time in franchise history and also finally bested Tigers' starter Anibal Sanchez (3-3), who entered the game with an 8-0 mark against Washington.
Sanchez allowed three runs (two earned) and eight hits with eight strikeouts and no walks before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh with Washington leading 3-1.
"Both starting pitchers were good," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. "Zimmermann has been very hot. We did not get much off a hot pitcher. (Sanchez) hung in there pretty good. I thought he got better as the game went along. We just came up short offensively. (Zimmermann) is a very hot pitcher."
Detroit (19-12) had just one run and seven hits in seven innings against Zimmermann, who began the night with the third-best ERA in the National League.
"He doesn't show a lot of outward expression," said Davey Johnson, the Washington manager. "But there is a big fire there. He likes any challenge."
Tyler Clippard came on to pitch in the top of the eighth for Washington and got Miguel Cabrera to fly out. He then struck out Prince Fielder. Andy Dirks and Jhonny Peralta draw walks but Alex Avila struck out swinging to end the threat.
Rafael Soriano retired the side in the ninth to get his 11th save for the Nationals.
Jose Ortega pitched a scoreless seventh for the Tigers and Joaquin Benoit came on in the eighth out of the Detroit bullpen and retired the side.
Bryce Harper's home run, a solo shot to right with two outs in the fifth off Sanchez gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead. It was his 10th of the season.
"He is a very talented guy," Leyland said of Harper, "obviously with a lot of talent. He wants to get better."
Washington took a 2-1 lead in the fourth as Adam LaRoche advanced to third on fly-ball out to right off the bat of Kurt Suzkuki. LaRoche was awarded home when the throw from right fielder Torii Hunter got past third baseman Cabrera and into the stands.
The Nationals had tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third as Denard Span led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Harper. Leyland noted Span, while with the Twins, was a thorn in the side of the Tigers.
"He is a good player," Leyland said.
The Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third as Cabrera singled to left to drive in Hunter, who had doubled with two outs. Cabrera entered the game with a batting average of .362 and 21 homers in 85 career games against Washington.
The run by the Tigers ended a 20-inning scoreless streak by Zimmermann, who began the game with an ERA of 1.64. He threw 101 pitches, 72 for strikes.
"He has pitched so well," Johnson said. "He is starting to grow to the point where pitch count doesn't mean anything to him."
NOTES: Playing in a National League park, the Tigers' starting lineup was without DH Victor Martinez. He was retired in the ninth as a pinch-hitter ... This was the first game at Nationals Park for Detroit. The last visit to Washington for the Tigers was June 18-20, 2007, when they swept three games at RFK Stadium. ... Right fielder Jayson Werth, bothered by a sore hamstring, was not in the starting lineup for the Nationals. Johnson said he did not want to use Werth on a wet field in his first game back after several games off. Werth did not play ... The Nationals are now 1-6 against Detroit.