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Kuroda discusses his stellar 2012 season with Yankees

Joe Girardi knows the Yankees can't skip any steps.

New York is two games behind Texas for the best record in the American League, which would give the club home-field advantage through the ALCS. But the Yankees still have a magic number of six for the AL East title, leading the Orioles by only one game with six to play. Home field is a possibility, but it can't come before a playoff berth is secure.

"I haven't really looked at that a lot," Girardi said before the Yankees lost, 6-0, to the Blue Jays on Thursday night. "I know it's been talked about, and I know us and Texas are fairly close. The first thing we need to focus on is winning the division. Everything after that is gravy."

The Yankees can even the four-game series on Friday night at Rogers Centre. Despite Thursday's result, they have won 11 of their last 15, while the Blue Jays have lost 12 of 17.

New York will turn to Hiroki Kuroda (14-11, 3.34 ERA), who has been stuck in a modest slide of late. The veteran right-hander has allowed at least three earned runs in six straight starts, posting a 4.91 ERA over that period.

On Sunday, the A's reached Kuroda for five runs -- four earned -- on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked three.

"He's keeping us in the game, that's the bottom line," Girardi said afterward.

The Blue Jays will counter with rookie Chad Jenkins, who is going for his first big league win in his second career start. The 24-year-old, the club's first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, had made 10 relief appearances since his promotion from Double-A New Hampshire before he debuted as a starter on Sunday.

Jenkins (0-2, 4.24) gave up a first-inning home run to B.J. Upton but otherwise held the Rays scoreless over five innings, on two hits and one walk. He struck out four and made a positive impression on manager John Farrell.

"From the second through the fifth inning in his last outing, he pitched down in the strike zone as we have seen him coming out of the bullpen in a reliever role," Farrell said on Thursday. "He was a little amped up, start one, down in Tampa. He elevated some balls -- one was a home run, there were a couple deep fly balls. But he has been [very] efficient, and in that outing he got more accustomed to using his changeup, it became a more usable pitch for him, and that will be the case again [Friday] going through the lineup a couple, three times."

Farrell added that Jenkins probably will be allowed to go "a little bit" further than the 66 pitches he threw last time.

Yankees: Girardi keeping the faith in A-Rod
Alex Rodriguez was stuck in a 1-for-14 hole with five strikeouts coming into Thursday, two days after he bruised his left foot on a foul tip. But even though he was relegated to designated hitter, Rodriguez was batting third in the Yankees' lineup.

"I'm still comfortable that he could hit third in a Major League lineup because he's an on-base guy, too," Girardi said. "He's going to take his walks. He can get on base in front of Robbie [Cano]. I like that as well."

Rodriguez, hitting .270 with 18 home runs and a .783 OPS this season, went 0-for-2 with a walk and was hit by a pitch on Thursday. Girardi has seen him working to bring runners home and go to the opposite field, both welcome signs. He still feels good about seeing the 14-time All-Star come to the plate in big situations.

"I think he's done a pretty good job since he's come back [from the disabled list] of driving in important runs," Girardi said. "If it's a single up the middle that he needs, he's done that."

Blue Jays: Power returns for Lawrie
Third baseman Brett Lawrie's opposite-field home run off Ivan Nova in Thursday's third inning was his first since he returned from the DL on Sept. 7. In fact, Lawrie had gone 29 games since cracking his last homer, on July 22 at Boston.

During that period, he was hitting .232 with a .605 OPS, six RBIs and 23 strikeouts. The 22-year-old now has 10 roundtrippers this season after collecting nine in 43 games as a rookie.

• Infielder Adeiny Hechavarria has a career-high nine-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 16 of his 18 contests this month. The 23-year-old rookie is batting .315 in September with four doubles, a home run and eight RBIs.

Worth noting
• In Kuroda's first career start at Rogers Centre, on May 16, he surrendered seven runs in five innings. But on July 18 at Yankee Stadium, he tossed seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays.

• Jenkins posted a 4.96 ERA in 20 Double-A starts this season.

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