Kansas City, Mo. Bruce Chen will never overpower with a blazing fastball. He’ll never step onto the mound and strike fear into the hearts of opposing hitters.
He’s awfully adept at getting them out anyway.
The veteran left-hander kept Minnesota off balance all night, outdueling Francisco Liriano and making a lone run scored in the second inning stand up to give the Kansas City Royals a 1-0 victory over the Twins on Tuesday night.
“He did a great job from the first inning on. He’d speed their bats up and slow them down,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He had good tempo and he was banging strikes.”
Chen (5-5) allowed four hits without a walk to win for the fifth time in six starts, which came on the heels of a miserable start to the season that made some question whether the two-year deal he was given by Kansas City was really worth it.
Well, he’s proving just how valuable he is to a patchwork rotation.
“Pitching is contagious. You say, ‘You know what? Let’s keep it going,’” said Chen, who added to a pair of shutouts logged by Kansas City already on this six-game homestand.
“This whole pitching staff is pushing each other.”
Chen was pushing Liriano, too.
The Twins’ left-hander allowed only four hits in six innings, but three of them came in the second when the Twins’ failure to turn a double play proved costly. It allowed Brayan Pena to send an RBI single rolling through the left side of the infield for the game’s only run.
Greg Holland worked around an error in the eighth for Kansas City, and Jonathan Broxton left runners on first and second in the ninth for his 14th save of the season.
“You’re just out there trying to compete,” said Broxton, who got some help from a couple of nifty plays by his defense. “You have to bear down and let your defense work.”
Chen retired the first six batters he faced, and then helped himself after Brian Dozier singled to lead off the third by catching him trying to steal. The only other hits Chen allowed were a double by Dozier and singles by Darin Mastroianni and Jamey Carroll.
“He changed speeds well. He kept us off balance,” said the Twins’ Denard Span, who went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. “He threw a lot of different arm angles. He threw over the top, three quarters and a couple of times a sidearm with two strikes. He mixed it up.
“He’s the type of pitcher when he’s on, he can do what he did tonight.”
Liriano, who had just snapped a personal six-game skid, kept Minnesota in the game.
He struck out eight while yielding only one walk in six sharp innings, even matching a major league record when he struck out four batters in the fourth — Jeff Francoeur swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt, allowing him to reach base with the strikeout.
It was the third time this season that a pitcher has fanned four in an inning.
“My confidence has been there,” he said. “It’s all about location.”
The only blemish against Liriano — the only real blemish in the game — came in the second inning, when Francoeur singled and Eric Hosmer chopped a pitch back at Liriano.
He whirled around and threw to Dozier covering second base, but his throw to Justin Morneau at first was not in time to get Hosmer hustling down the line. The double play would have ended the inning, but instead, Hosmer promptly stole second base to get into scoring position.
That’s when Pena slipped a grounder between third base and shortstop for an RBI single.
With Chen on the mound and one of the American League’s best bullpens ready to work, that lone run proved to be enough for Kansas City.
“The bullpen has been tremendous for us,” Chen said. “Liriano did a real good job. He had great stuff. But we were able to scramble a run.”
Notes: Twins C Joe Mauer (sprained right thumb) was out of the lineup for the second straight game. ... The Royals optioned LHP Will Smith to Triple-A Omaha and recalled LHP Ryan Verdugo. ... Royals LHP Everett Teaford (lower abdominal strain) and 2B Chris Getz (bruised ribs) will begin rehab assignments Thursday at Omaha. ... RHP Nick Blackburn will start the series finale Wednesday for Minnesota. Paulino takes the mound for Kansas City.