Jayson Werth greeted Jordan Zimmermann and told him to watch the tape. The rest of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse celebrated their fifth straight victory a 7-2 win over the Kansas City Royals that kept them on the periphery of the playoff picture. Werth reduced to spectator status had told Zimmermann he had thrown perhaps his nastiest slider of the season. “So” Zimmermann said “I wanted to see what it looked like.”

Zimmermann plopped himself in front of a monitor and queued up the first inning: no one on base two outs Eric Hosmer batting. Zimmermann knew Hosmer had timed his fastball and so he threw a “backfoot” slider. The pitch started inside and darted at Hosmer’s left ankle. Hosmer stabbed at the ball like a child trying to catch a firefly in a jar. He lifted his foot off the ground as he whiffed.

“I’m not real sure why he swung at it” Zimmermann said. “It almost hit him in the back foot.”

It was that kind of night for Zimmermann at Kaufman Stadium. He allowed two runs over 72 / 3 innings for his 15th win which tied him for the National League lead. The Nationals backed up their 11-run onslaught Friday even without red-hot Werth who sat out with a troubling infection in his right foot. They scored four runs in the fourth inning with the help of an ill-fated intentional walk and Ian Desmond blasted a two-run homer in the sixth.

The ninth inning provided welcome boredom a 1-2-3 performance by Tyler Clippard. Spooked by a recent string of horrific final innings Manager Davey Johnson used his best reliever despite a five-run lead with the bottom of the Royals’ order due up.

“I wasn’t taking any chances” Johnson said. “I wanted to ice that one down.”

The night before Johnson had yanked Drew Storen two batters into the ninth. He could tell from the glare Storen gave he was angry and Johnson did not care. Victory for him took precedent over feelings.

“We’re in a pennant race man” Johnson said Saturday afternoon. “It’s time to get some energy flowing. I’m in my pennant mode now. We got to win every ballgame.”

The Nationals really are only on the edge of a pennant race 81 / 2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the National League’s second wild-card spot with 33 games left. But they have not faded all the way to black.

Their fifth straight win matched a season high and made them 11-4 in their past 15 games during which time they have scored 5.7 runs per game. After Sunday the Nationals’ next 19 games will come against the eminently beatable New York Mets Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins. They need more help than they count on and time is an enemy that may already have won. And yet meaningful September baseball is not out of the question.