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07/04/10 10:48 AM ET

Veterans square off as Yanks visit A's

With the All-Star break looming, the Yankees are right where they want to be, in first place. But the American League East remains tight, and even though the break is coming, the Yanks have buisness to finish in Oakland.

The Athletics, battling to stay in contention after winning seven of their past nine games, get a tough test this week as they try to close out the first half on a winning note. They'll take on the AL West rival Angels to close out the first half, but up first is a battle with the Yankees.

Two veteran hurlers in Javier Vazquez and Ben Sheets will do battle on Monday. Neither has been particularly spectacular this year, but both have found solid ground of late, despite not earning many wins.

The right-handed Vazquez hasn't picked up a win since June 12, but that's not all his doing. Two of his three outings since have been quality starts, including an effort his last time out, against the Mariners, in which he allowed three runs in six innings. Vazquez struck out eight batters that night but was saddled with the loss upon being outpitched by Felix Hernandez.

"A lot of times, three runs in six innings will win a lot of games," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "Not tonight. Not against Felix. [Vazquez] limited the damage, but Felix was so good."

Vazquez won't be facing a pitcher as dominant as Hernandez this time around, although Sheets has shown the ability to be just as tough at times in his career. The right-hander has performed well recently, but his control remains a key issue. In his last outing, against the Orioles, Sheets walked three batters -- something the potent Yankees likely won't let him get away with.

"Two of my four runs [were] on walks," Sheets said of his last outing. "Walks will kill you -- they will. Put it in play."

Sheets has risen to the occasion in limited appearances against the Yankees. The right-hander has a 1.38 ERA in two career starts against New York, including one earlier this season. Sheets took the loss in that outing but allowed just two earned runs in six innings. Sheets, along with the rest of the A's starting rotation, has to be happy to return home to Oakland, where the staff a whole has been pitched well. Sheets has a 3.19 ERA at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, compared to a 6.66 ERA on the road.

Yankees: Thames returns with a bang
The Yankees' lineup options got a bit deeper on Sunday, when they activated Marcus Thames from the disabled list. Thames made his presence immediately felt with a walk-off single in the 10th inning of New York's 7-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Thames had been on the disabled list since injuring his right hamstring on June 12 against the Astros. "I'm happy to be back -- It feels like I've been gone forever," Thames said. "I was getting frustrated there for a bit, because I thought I was going to be back sooner than I was." Prior to going on the DL, Thames had been regularly serving as the fourth outfielder, hitting .276 on the year.

Athletics: Crisp likely to play
Coco Crisp gave the A's another injury scare on Sunday, when he exited Oakland's 3-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in the second inning with what was termed "left hamstring tightness." Crisp, 30, was playing in just his 12th game of the season, having already missed time with a fractured left pinkie and a right rib strain. But after the game, Crisp didn't seem overly concerned. "It's just a precautionary thing," Crisp said. I'll be in there [Monday]."

Worth noting
The Yanks have now won nine of their past 14 games. ... Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland will turn 44 on Monday. On Sunday, Mariano Rivera allowed his first run in a span of 16 appearances. ... After a slow start, Jack Cust has heated up over his past 24 games, hitting .362 over that span, including a 2-for-3 performance on Sunday.

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