The Washington Nationals’ season has begun with a rocky start of inconsistent play, a losing record in the first month and the team bending from the weight of lofty expectations. On Wednesday, they sent their best pitcher to the mound against their toughest division opponent, and Jordan Zimmermann delivered a 2-0 gem to beat Atlanta, a masterpiece that snapped a three-game losing streak but was still overshadowed by an injury scare to Bryce Harper that had the potential to be a devastating blow to an already listing offense.

Zimmermann (5-1) fired eight spotless innings, extending his scoreless streak to 18 and lowering his ERA to 1.64. Ian Desmond provided the only offense a beleaguered lineup needed, a two-run home run in the fourth inning. But perhaps the best news the Nationals received came after the final out, when Manager Davey Johnson said Harper was day to day after he was pulled from the game following a sixth-inning at-bat that left him grimacing in pain.

Harper, the reigning National League rookie of the year who was off to an even better start in his second season, departed after a check swing against Braves left-handed starter Paul Maholm. Harper grounded out to end the at-bat on the next pitch, but something looked awry. After talking with head trainer Lee Kuntz and Johnson on the bench in the dugout, Harper was pulled.

This week alone, the Nationals endured scares to two of their prized cornerstone players. Stephen Strasburg dealt with right forearm irritation during Monday’s start against the Braves, at first described as the potentially more troublesome forearm tightness. Two days later, the most powerful and consistent bat in their struggling lineup exited after a swing that at first appeared to be a worrisome oblique injury. “That’s never a good thing to see,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

The injury, however, turned out to be the remnants of a bad bruise from Tuesday’s game.

“He didn’t want to come out of the ballgame but I saw him grimacing and I was concerned about him playing,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t take a chance on it. He could pull a lat or something and he could be out for a long time.”