Then along came the sixth.
Zimmermann gave up a pair of one-out singles and was replaced by Doug Slaten to create a lefty-lefty matchup against Josh Thole. Thole promptly hit a slider for a two-run double into the left field corner, putting the New York Mets ahead for good in the Nationals' 6-4 loss Tuesday night.
Zimmermann (1-4) allowed five runs and nine hits, his worst start of the season, but he made the case that he should have stayed in the game to face the Mets' catcher with the score tied at 3.
"I felt good all night," Zimmermann said. "The pitch count was low, and they weren't hitting me that hard."
Another reason to keep Zimmermann in: Slaten has allowed eight of 19 inherited runners to score.
"That's the No. 1 key to my job, probably, is coming in and getting guys out when guys are on base," Slaten said. "Right now there's a few that have dropped in. I still have confidence going out there, throwing pitches, throwing strikes, and luck will change a little bit."
Pitching mistakes are hard to overcome for a Nationals team that is struggling at the plate and has lost five of six, but manager Jim Riggleman said he hasn't lost faith in his reliever.
"Slate does a good job," Riggleman said. "It's just everybody gets in these little funks every now and then. He's a quality left-hander that I have a lot of confidence in, and it's just the way it's been going."
The Nationals, opening a seven-game homestand, scored three of their runs off solo homers. Wilson Ramos hit a pair — the first multihomer game of his career — and Jayson Werth hit his fourth of the season.
But Werth was also struck out by Ryota Igarashi (1-0) with men on second and third with two outs in the fifth. Ramos kept producing, moving the Nationals within a run with a two-out RBI single in the eighth that scored Rick Ankiel, but the Mets picked up a run in the ninth on an RBI groundout to restore the two-run lead.
Thole finished with three RBIs as New York ran its winning streak to five. The Mets, opening a six-game road trip, moved within three games of .500 as they continue to recover from a dreadful start to the season.
Starter Chris Young lasted 4 2-3 innings, allowing three runs and four hits in his first start since returning from the disabled list with tendinitis in his right biceps. Igarashi (1-0) faced only one better — Werth — and he joined relievers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Isringhausen and Francisco Rodriguez to allow only one run over 4 1-3 innings. Rodriguez pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
Notes: The Nationals placed SS Ian Desmond on the paternity leave list and recalled OF Roger Bernadina from Triple-A Syracuse. Desmond's wife, Chelsey, gave birth Tuesday to the couple's first son, Grayson Wesley Desmond. Manager Jim Riggleman says he expects Desmond to miss two games. ... Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle, is playing catch and doing some running. Riggleman said Zimmerman will probably have a rehabilitation assignment before returning to the big league club. ... Before the game, the Mets visited wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.