WASHINGTON -- Over the course of the Nationals' up-and-down season, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has been one of the few constants.
Less than a week after he skipped the All-Star Game to rest his ailing neck, Zimmermann took the field on Sunday afternoon with a chance to pick up his National League-leading 13th win of the year. Washington had won 15 of his 19 starts this season, and he hadn't lost at Nationals Park since May 17, 2012.
But with one ugly inning, all of that went out the window.
Zimmermann surrendered seven runs in the second inning, and what was expected to be a pitchers' duel quickly got out of hand. Zimmermann had the shortest start of his career, while fellow All-Star Clayton Kershaw was dominant in the Nationals' 9-2 loss to the Dodgers. Washington fell to 48-50 after being swept in a three-game series for the first time since late April.
"Some games you get away with a few mistakes, and some games whatever you throw up there is getting hit hard," Zimmermann said. "Today was one of those days."
After the first half of the season didn't go as planned, the Nationals saw the All-Star break as an opportunity to start their season anew. Their lineup finally seemed healthy, and 20 of their next 25 games were at home. Surely, the slumping offense would find its footing.
But not on Sunday. The Nationals mustered only four hits, including two against Kershaw. Jayson Werth accounted for both of those with homers in the second and seventh innings, capping an atrocious series in which the Nationals scored just five runs and went 2-for-26 (.077) with runners in scoring position.
"I think at any moment this team could take off," Werth said. "I'm really not going to get into the doom-and-gloom stuff, because we've got too many games to play. I believe in this team. I said it from the beginning. We've got a long way to go. We'll be fine."
Manager Davey Johnson was upset with the loss, but not with his team's effort.
"I look at each individual and see their work habits and the way they go about their business, and it's awfully professional. I have no complaints," Johnson said. "It's just the frustrating part [is] that it's not all coming together in wins. Nobody hates losing worse than me. Those guys feel it in there, too. Maybe it's pressing, I don't know. But I think the confidence is there."
One shred of optimism for the Nationals was Zimmermann's health. The right-hander has dealt with soreness in his neck for much of this season, but he said after the game that he felt "the best I've felt in a long time" on Sunday. However, he allowed seven earned runs on eight hits, including two home runs, and also walked two batters.
While catcher Kurt Suzuki didn't notice any mechanical problems with Zimmermann's delivery, the righty said that he struggled all afternoon with his command. His breaking pitches weren't breaking, and he left several sliders over the middle of the plate.
"Things are funny after the break. You get four days off. Those things happen," Werth said. "He's been good since I've been here. He's allowed to have one bad game."
Zimmermann stranded two baserunners in the first inning before losing control in the second. Matt Kemp, who was activated off the disabled list before the game, clobbered a hanging slider for a homer to lead off the inning. Kershaw knocked in one run with a groundout, and Carl Crawford brought home another. Then Hanley Ramirez turned another slider from Zimmermann into a three-run shot.
"We have a really deep lineup, guys that give really good at-bats, one after the next," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "If you get one guy out, the next guy might hurt you."
After the Nationals endured a pair of close, late losses in the first two games of the series, Sunday's game wasn't close. Long reliever Ross Ohlendorf replaced Zimmermann in the third inning and saved the Nationals' bullpen with six solid innings. He allowed two runs on six hits, striking out six and walking one.
Zimmermann, meanwhile, allowed seven earned runs or more for just the third time in 101 career starts.
"You can be on the top of the world and then have a bad start, but what Jordan's so good at is kind of putting it in the past and coming out the next time and doing his job," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I don't see why the next time he wouldn't go back to what he's been all year."
The Nationals didn't lose any ground in the National League East on Sunday, as both the Braves and Phillies also lost. But besides that fact, it was hard to draw many positives from another tough day at Nationals Park.
"Bottom line is we just need to go out and win games," Zimmerman said. "Everyone can talk about whatever they want to talk about, but we got to go out and win."
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.