When a manager says an opposing batter appeared “awful comfortable” at the plate — as Davey Johnson said of Pirates star Andrew McCutchen on Thursday night — it is a standard, baseball-code way of saying, “We should have backed the sonofagun off the plate and not let him get so comfortable to begin with.”

Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals’ pitcher of record in a 5-3 loss at Nationals Park, did not disagree. Instead, after giving up two home runs to McCutchen, he said the same thing even more explicitly: “I think we’ve got to bust him in the next time we face him.”

Chalk it up as a lesson learned. As it turned out Thursday night, Zimmermann didn’t have sharp enough control with his fastball to put the ball where he wanted anyway. The sturdy right-hander battled his mechanics for the better part of his six-inning start, in which he allowed three homers and four earned runs — both season highs.

“It’s just one of those things where I was getting a little too quick to home plate and my arm wasn’t able to catch up,” he said. “In the last couple innings I tried staying back a little better, and it felt a little better, and my command was a little better — but it was just too late.”

One of the positive takeaways from this loss for the Nationals is the recalibration of what constitutes a bad start anymore by this starting rotation. This was quite clearly Zimmermann’s worst outing of the young season — his ERA rose from 2.14 to 2.58 — but he still managed to complete six innings and deliver a still-winnable ballgame to his bullpen. One more big hit by the Nationals’ offense and we’re talking about what a gutsy win this was for Zimmermann.

“Jordan’s going to be great,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Just like Stephen [Strasburg], he’s not going to pitch great every single time — it’s impossible to do that. But if they can go six [innings] and give up four [runs] and that’s a bad start — I think we’ll take that.”