HOUSTON -- The Royals certainly didn't put on a hitting clinic in Wednesday's matinee, but they were able to scrape enough runs across for a 2-1 win over the Astros.
Veteran lefty Bruce Chen, on three days' rest, went 5 2/3 innings, making way for a stout Royals bullpen that helped lock down the rubber-game win in front of 30,687 fans at Minute Maid Park.
Kansas City heads into Thursday night's pool of games just four games out of the American League Central lead. The Royals have won seven of nine and sit five games under .500 after enduring a 12-game losing streak in April.
"It has been a long road," Chen said. "It always feels like we're trying to catch up to .500. This team is a very good team. Everyone wants to win. The way we've been playing lately has been very, very exciting for us."
The Royals scored the first run of the game in the top of the fifth. Mike Moustakas led off with a double, the second Royals' hit of the game. A groundout by Alcides Escobar moved Moustakas to third. Manager Ned Yost called for a contact play with Brayan Pena at the plate, so Moustakas took off on Pena's grounder to first, drawing no throw at the plate from first baseman Carlos Lee.
In the sixth, the Royals added another run after Alex Gordon led off with a triple. Yuniesky Betancourt hit a grounder toward Astros' shortstop Jed Lowrie, who was unable to make the play and was charged with an error that allowed Gordon to score for a 2-0 advantage.
"I just kind of got caught in between," Lowrie said. "It was a chopper and I tried to come get it and pick it on a short hop, and it just didn't get there. So it wasn't a particularly challenging play. I just got caught in between and wasn't able to get that short hop."
The Royals didn't get anything else off starter Jordan Lyles, who gave up just three hits in seven innings, while striking out four.
"We did not have good swings at him," Yost said. "He threw the ball extremely well."
With their bats not clicking, Yost said he took his chances with a couple contact plays.
"We gambled both times and luckily we scored both runs," Yost said.
The Astros got one back in the sixth. Jordan Schafer, replacing injured Justin Maxwell in center field, walked and stole second base. Lee also walked, but J.D. Martinez hit into a 6-4-3 double play, putting Schafer on third with two out.
Lowrie, the next batter, hit a grounder deep in the hole between shortstop and second base. Royals shortstop Escobar made a diving stop, but couldn't grip and throw to first, allowing the Astros to plate their first run.
Chris Johnson then singled, prompting Yost to bring in right-handed reliever Kelvin Herrera to face Chris Snyder. Herrera struck out the catcher to end the inning, and then struck out the side in the seventh.
In the bottom of the eighth, Jose Mijares struck out his only batter and Greg Holland struck out two after giving up a single and a walk to end another Astros threat.
Closer Jonathan Broxton gave up a pair of singles in the ninth, but worked out of a one-out jam with runners on first and third to record his 18th save.
"Piece of cake," Yost said. "Had them all the way."
Gordon said he never doubts Broxton, even when he puts runners on base.
"He finds a way to get it done," Gordon said.
Thirteen of the Royals' last 14 games were decided by two runs or fewer, giving ample opportunity for the bullpen to show its worth. Chen said he felt very comfortable giving the ball to the 'pen after his outing.
"That's our strongest point," Chen said. "We have like four or five guys that could be setup guys on any other team. Broxton has been money."
Gordon is confident the offense will come around. Getting Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler in the lineup at the same time this weekend at Kauffman Stadium won't hurt matters.
"I swear one of these days our offense is going to get rolling and we're going to start giving the bullpen rest," Gordon said. "Hopefully it'll come soon."
Yost said the team set a lofty goal to get back to .500 before the All-Star break after sitting at 9-19 in early May. The Royals are charging up the AL Central standings and don't view the 12-game losing streak as a huge negative.
"We take it as a positive," Chen said. "It helped us become the team that we are."
Clark Goble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.