Yankees-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated Press

It's unclear when Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira will be back, but it may not matter to the rolling New York Yankees.

The Yankees will try to capitalize on a key chance to pad their lead atop the AL East on Thursday night, when they open a four-game series against the last-place Toronto Blue Jays.

New York (90-65) is 12-4 without Teixeira after he suffered a strained left calf in a loss at Baltimore earlier this month.

The Yankees did just fine without him again Wednesday, winning 8-2 at Minnesota for their ninth victory in 11 games as Rodriguez sat out after fouling a ball off his left foot in Tuesday's 5-4 loss.

Both Teixeira and Rodriguez are expected back in this series, but New York's recent success has afforded it the luxury of resting them.

The Yankees are averaging 5.5 runs while hitting .263 with 18 homers over the last 11 games, which includes last week's three-game sweep of Toronto (68-87) at home.

"I feel like we're playing our best ball now, and this is the perfect time to be doing that," said Nick Swisher, who has filled in for Teixeira at first base.

Swisher has a .353 average with four homers and 12 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak, including four hits in the series with the Blue Jays. He connected for a grand slam in last Thursday's 10-7 win to complete the sweep.

"I'm just trying to keep it warm until my boy Tex gets back," Swisher said

Swisher's impressive run is one of the reasons the Yankees hold a 1 1/2-game lead in the division on the second-place Orioles with seven games left, one more than Baltimore.

New York, however, can expand its slight lead since the Orioles are idle Thursday and open a three-game series against Boston on Friday.

Giving the ball to Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.94 ERA) against the Jays could push the Yankees further ahead.

The right-hander has won his last three starts against them behind a 2.61 ERA while holding Toronto to .192 at the plate.

That includes a 5-2 win at Rogers Centre on Aug. 11, when Nova yielded two runs and five hits with 10 strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings.

He's 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts since, and is coming off the shortest start of his two-plus years in the majors. Nova was pulled with one out and the bases loaded in the third after giving up three runs and five hits in Saturday's 10-9, 14-inning win over Oakland.

Toronto is returning home after concluding a 2-8 trip with a 12-2 loss at Baltimore. Its pitchers were pounded for seven homers in a game for the first time since giving up a franchise record-tying eight against Detroit on June 20, 2000.

The Blue Jays, losers of eight of 11 at Rogers Centre, are expected to turn to Brandon Morrow (8-7, 3.28), who is 1-3 with a 3.94 ERA in six starts since returning from a strained left oblique.

The right-hander struggled Saturday, giving up five runs and two homers while matching his season high with four walks in four innings of an 11-5 defeat at Tampa Bay.

Morrow is facing the Yankees for the first time this year after winning two of three meetings with a 1.74 ERA in 2011.

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