KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bruce Chen is a student of pitching. It’s one of the reasons the soft-tossing, 36-year-old left-hander still has a starting job with the Kansas City Royals.
It’s also why he could appreciate Marlins counterpart Jose Fernandez on Tuesday night.
Chen and Fernandez went pitch-for-pitch in a tidy matchup of contrasting starters, each of them lasting seven innings. They turned over a scoreless game to their bullpens, and the Marlins came through on Christian Yelich’s RBI single in the 10th for a 1-0 victory.
“That Fernandez kid was very good, kept us off balance, good stuff,” Chen said afterward. “I tried to do everything I could to help this team win. It was a close one.”
The game was scoreless until Kansas City reliever Kelvin Herrera (4-6) brushed the jersey of the Marlins’ Jake Marisnick with an inside pitch in the 10th. Marisnick stole second base and then scored on Yelich’s single through the right side of the infield, his third hit of the game.
The Royals, who had won 17 of their last 20, were trying to wrap up their eighth consecutive series victory. They’ll try again in the finale on Wednesday afternoon.
“Bruce was phenomenal. Fernandez was everything we had heard he was and seen on video,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It was just an old-fashioned pitching duel.”
Chad Qualls (3-1) earned the win for Miami, while Steve Cishek survived a single in the bottom half of the 10th for his 25th save. Cishek has converted 20 in a row, the third-longest streak in the majors behind the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and the Royals’ Greg Holland.
“We were fortune enough to score a run and pick up a win,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
Indeed, the game began as a matchup between a junkballer in Chen who began the season in the bullpen, and a 21-year-old phenom in Fernandez making a push for Rookie of the Year.
The Royals left-hander allowed a leadoff single to Yelich but didn’t give up another hit until the fourth. His beguiling 84 mph fastball – the term “fastball” applied loosely – helped Chen strike out six batters and deal with three walks over his seven innings.
Otherwise, the Marlins spent most of the night popping balls into shallow center field, trudging back to the dugout and wondering why someone who couldn’t throw harder than some Little League pitchers kept baffling them with his dizzying array of floating changeups.
He lowered his ERA to 0.94 since replacing Luis Mendoza in the Royals rotation.
“I think I got a couple hits off Bruce somewhere along the way,” joked Mike Redmond, who retired as a player after the 2010 season. “Hey, a testament to him, he’s still out there making pitches and he shut us down. I hadn’t seen him pitch for a long time, but he did a great job against us tonight, and he’s done a great job for them.”
The problem for the Royals? Fernandez has been even better for the Marlins.
He allowed a single in the first and another in the second, but then retired 13 straight before a leadoff walk in the seventh. The Royals managed to get runners on first and second with two outs before George Kottaras flied out to center to end the inning.
It was the most trouble that Fernandez was in all night.
“He throws everything for strikes,” Kottaras said. “He’s got all those plus pitches to work with. He was attacking the zone. We were falling behind. He had us at his mercy for a while.”
Fernandez didn’t pick up the win, of course. He had to watch from the bench after Redmond pulled him from the game. But he still managed his sixth straight start without a defeat.
“It’s a baseball game,” he said, smiling. “We won.”
NOTES: Marlins OF Chris Coghlan (right calf nerve irritation) will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Class A Jupiter. He plans to play five innings at 3B. … Royals 3B Mike Moustakas (left calf strain) was held out of the lineup. An MRI exam confirmed the strain and he’s day to day, Yost said. … Kansas City RHP Ervin Santana will start against Miami RHP Jacob Turner in Wednesday’s series finale.