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06/03/10 1:44 AM ET

Jays lean on Cecil to deny Yanks

The Blue Jays certainly have been one of baseball's most pleasant surprises this season.

After all, they finished fourth in the American League East last season with an uninspiring 75-87 record and traded away ace Roy Halladay in the offseason, but they're in the thick of things in arguably baseball's toughest division, with a 31-24 record this year.

Now -- and finally -- they get their crack at the defending World Series champion Yankees, for the first time this season.

For the Yankees, who finished off a three-game sweep over the Orioles with their fifth straight win Thursday, the fact that they've played the Red Sox eight times and the Orioles nine times strikes manager Joe Girardi as a bit strange -- although last year, the Yankees and Jays had 15 of their 18 meetings take place after July 1.

"These have happened in the past, but it is kind of weird," Girardi said. "You would think you'd see every team in your division the first month of the season -- somewhere in the first month, somewhere in the middle, and somewhere in the last month."

Meanwhile, the Jays just hope that Thursday's off-day will do them good after having suffered back-to-back tough losses at the hands of the division-leading Rays, who came back from ninth-inning deficits to win the final two games of the set.

The Blue Jays will need the rest. Things won't get any easier Friday. Toronto will look to left-hander Brett Cecil in the first game of the series, while New York will counter with right-hander A.J. Burnett, formerly of the Jays.

Cecil, who is 5-2 with a 3.81 ERA in eight starts, was in top form in his last start against the O's on Saturday, when he went eight innings and allowed just two runs on four hits without issuing a walk. It marked the third straight win for Cecil, who hasn't shied away from the strike zone this season, posting an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 40-to-12.

"I'm sticking to the plan that the catchers and I talk about -- just staying aggressive," Cecil said. "Whatever I've got, I'm going to be aggressive with it that game, and whatever happens, happens."

Burnett, meanwhile, is also coming off a solid start, as he allowed just one earned run over eight innings against the Indians on Sunday. The key, according to Burnett, was that he didn't walk a batter -- the first time he'd shown such control in any outing this season.

"I wasn't trying to be too perfect or too fine," Burnett said of his last outing. "I wasn't trying to hit the corners. I had good stuff and good movement. I didn't walk anybody, because I wasn't trying to be perfect."

Yankees: Posada eases his way back
The Yankees got a big boost on Wednesday night, when switch-hitting slugger Jorge Posada returned to the lineup after being activated from the 15-day disabled list. He served as the designated hitter his first two games, going 1-for-4 Thursday. After suffering a fracture in his right foot earlier this season, Posada won't be rushed back behind the plate. "We'll play it by ear every day," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We want Jorgie to catch; that's the bottom line. But we'll do what we think the best lineup is every day. It's not just based on one person -- it's based on all of the parts that are here."

Blue Jays: Ninth inning an issue
Toronto didn't use closer Kevin Gregg on Wednesday after he allowed four runs on a hit and five walks in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 7-6 loss. Instead, the Blue Jays stuck with starter Shaun Marcum in the ninth inning, but the move backfired, as Marcum was charged with four runs in the inning before the Jays took a 7-3 loss. Before Wednesday's game, however, manager Cito Gaston defended his decision to use Gregg on Tuesday. "I know people are giving me a lot of [grief] for leaving him out there," Gaston said. "But if they want to come out of the stands and pitch, I'd be happy for them. Anybody who wants to show up and pitch, come on."

Worth noting
Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells extended his hitting streak to a season-high 11 games on Wednesday, the highest by a Jays player this season. ... Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch made his third start in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Las Vegas, going 4 2/3 innings and allowing six runs on 11 hits. ... Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 17 games on Thursday. He had recorded a multihit game in each of his past seven contests before Thursday, when he went 1-for-3 with a double.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.