WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 18: Jordan Zimmermann #27 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on July 18, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Though he said he tries to stay on a level keel, not getting too up or down for any one series since they're all important, Davey Johnson said he was excited to start the three-game series with Atlanta tonight. "It's the Atlanta Braves, they've always been one of the best teams in the league. It would be the same feeling no matter how we were, so, we know they're pretty good and they know now we're pretty good, so it's going to be fun." History has shown, the Nats' manager told reporters, that the Braves, "... always either win the division or are right there." As for any real rivalry with the Nats' NL East competitors, Johnson said, "You need to be on top of the hill, we're kind of newcomers, we have a rivalry with everybody at this point."
"It was fun for a young club, for young players to go up against Philadelphia last year when I was here, and Atlanta, all of them in our division are good teams, good organizations. To be able to last year hold our own... this year is just kind of a maturation process. We're a little better, a little more experienced. To me it's just kind of progress you go through. The Braves are good. We're better, not necessarily better than them, but better from last year. So, yeah, there's a rivalry. I don't know how I could beat a team worse than I wanted to beat the Mets when they were here. That was a rivalry."
The Nats' manager rearranged the rotation last week, leading to Jordan Zimmermann pitching tonight and meeting the Braves for the first time this year. The 26-year-old right-hander's faced Atlanta four times so far his career, posting a (2-1) record with seven walks (2.70 BB/9), 21 Ks (8.10 K/9) a 3.09 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and .212 BAA in 23.1 IP against the Nats' rivals. "Jordan Zimmermann was arguably my best pitcher last year," Davey Johnson said before tonight's game, "He was coming back from being out with Tommy John. This year he's taken it up a notch and his personality is coming out a little more. He's usually very quiet, but Zim is a man and he don't miss nothing. He has a presence that's a very strong, quiet presence. He's a fighter."
Zimmermann will have to fight it out with the Braves' Tim Hudson tonight. Last time the Nationals faced the Braves' right-hander they scored six runs, five earned on seven hits in 6.0 IP in a 6-4 win over Atlanta. Zimmermann's coming off a loss to the Giants in which he gave up two runs on eight hits in 5.2 IP. The Nats' right-hander enters tonight's game with the lowest ERA in the majors.