KANSAS CITY -- Maybe Bruce Chen should get into auto racing. He sure knows how to punch the accelerator and then hit the brakes at just the right times.
Chen worked that ability with precision on Tuesday night, winning for the fifth time in his last six starts as the Royals defeated the Minnesota Twins, 1-0, with 23,934 fans enjoying pleasant weather at Kauffman Stadium. It's a season turnaround for Chen, who was 0-4 in his first six starts and is now 5-5 overall.
"Bruce was tremendous. He did a great job from the first hitter on, really working the accelerator," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He'd speed their bats up and slow 'em down. He had a perfect mix. When they were looking slow, he'd throw his 88, 89 mile-an-hour fastball. When they started speeding their bats up to catch up with the fastball, then he threw his changeup and curveball. He had very good location, good tempo, was banging strikes."
Chen went seven innings, throttling the Twins on four hits and threw 88 pitches without a walk. Yost debated letting the veteran left-hander throw the eighth inning as well but decided to let right-hander Greg Holland work instead.
No complaint from Chen.
"I do my job for seven innings and the bullpen has been terrific for us. They're on fire, so just give them the ball. That's what we as starters try to do, give them the lead so we can win the ballgame," he said.
The last three batters of the Twins' order were right-handed and had three of the hits off Chen.
"The matchup just kind of favored Holland with his overpowering stuff at the bottom of the order there, and we wanted to get through the eighth and get to [Jonathan] Broxton in the ninth," Yost said.
Holland struck out the side, pitching past an error, to take the shutout to Broxton. After one out, Broxton gave up a double to Josh Willingham and walked Justin Morneau to set up a derring-do finish. Catcher Brayan Pena made a save of his own, blocking an in-the-dirt slider to keep Willingham from advancing to third base. And, after a flyout, Trevor Plouffe sent a long drive hurtling into deep left-center field with Jarrod Dyson in pursuit.
"When I looked at him at first I thought he was jogging a little bit but he speeded up and I was like, 'Just get there!'" Broxton said.
Dyson got there and Broxton had his 14th save in 16 opportunities. The shutout was the sixth this season for the Royals, their third in the last five games and their seventh victory in their last 10 games.
Their single run came off another effective left-hander, Francisco Liriano, after two were out in the second inning. Eric Hosmer sped to first base, foiling the Twins' try for a double play and was listening to first-base coach Doug Sisson.
"As soon as I came back [to the base], Siss said, 'Hey, it's a good time to go right here. First pitch, take off.' So I never question Siss, I took off and it worked out for us," Hosmer said.
Hosmer swiped second and raced home when Pena singled into left field.
"With the type of stuff Liriano had tonight, any opportunity you get, you can't pass up. For me it was just kind of do-or-die to get in scoring position. It was just the risk we were taking right there," Hosmer said.
That was all the Royals would get off Liriano, so sharp that he achieved a rarity in the fourth inning -- getting four strikeouts to match a Major League record. Mike Moustakas struck out and so did Jeff Francoeur but Liriano's pitch was off the plate and bounced away from catcher Drew Butera. So Francoeur was safe on a wild pitch. Liriano got his third and fourth strikeouts against Hosmer and Pena.
"It's all about location," Liriano said. "I think when you locate a ball where you want it, that's the results you can get. So it's all about location and keeping the ball down."
It was the third time this season a pitcher has struck out four in an inning and the 60th time in big league history, according to Baseball Almanac. Liriano was just the second pitcher in Twins history to do it, joining Scott Baker on June 15, 2008, at Baltimore. (The only Royals pitcher to do it was Kevin Appier on July 3, 1996, at Toronto.)
Liriano struck out eight in his six innings, giving up four hits and one walk.
"That's the best Liriano we've seen in a long, long time. His slider really became unhittable," Yost said.
Chen, though, was even better.
"I felt like I was commanding the pitches real well but I have to give a lot of credit to Brayan," Chen said. "He was calling a really good game and gets me back to what I'm capable of doing. He goes out there and I feed off him. I trust him every time he puts a sign down that that's the correct pitch."
This was the 10th time in Chen's career that he's pitched seven or more innings without giving up a run and the last three starts have all been against the Minnesota.
"Chen kind of dazzled with all of his stuff," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He never really gave in on anything, flipping them over, throwing his breaking ball and changeup, changed speeds on us really well. He kept us off-balance pretty much the whole night."
That's what happens when you know just when to step on the accelerator and when to slam on the brakes.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.