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Yankees turn their attention to Blue Jays

Talented Jays beset by injuries, but Toronto still dangerous
04/19/2013 12:46 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

The Yankees won't have to deal with the injured Jose Reyes, but Toronto is still a challenge.(AP)
With their first interleague series of 2013 now over, the Yankees turn their attention to their third intra-division set of the season; the Bombers are headed to Toronto, where Andy Pettitte will face Brandon Morrow in the opener of a three-game set at Rogers Centre on Friday.

On paper, many picked the Jays to be an AL East powerhouse, as they made a lot of additions in the offseason; some of them, like Saturday's scheduled starter LHP Mark Buehrle, are familiar faces, while others like RHP Josh Johnson (Sunday's starter) haven't been seen much in the past, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi is curious to see how the new-look Jays truly shape up.

"They're a team in our division, and they've been a club that was tough before their additions," Girardi said. "A lot of guys can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and they've added some speed and defense. They've also added to their rotation, and the additions to their rotation are experienced guys; it's not young kids, so I am curious to see what they look like."

Toronto is off to just a 7-9/6-10 start this year, but Girardi he knows that this early in the season, you can't discount anyone, let alone a division rival.

"It's such a short period of games; anyone can get off to a hot start and anyone can get off to a slow start and you don't think too much of it," Girardi said.

One of the keys to this series may be DH Travis Hafner, who is hitting .342 with four homers and eight RBI through Thursday and has gone 3-for-11 with three extra-base hits and two RBI off Morrow in his career. Keeping the oft-injured Hafner healthy has been a priority this season, and for the Yankees, it's "so far, so good" with good results.

"(We got him) to be our DH against righties, and our feeling has been if we can keep him healthy, he'll be productive," Girardi said. "When he has felt good, no matter what time of year it is or how many year it is or how many at-bats he's gotten, he's swung the bat pretty good against righties."

That said, Girardi thinks that part of the hot start "Pronk" has gotten off to in pinstripes stems from his stilted playing time; Hafner did not start the last two games against Arizona lefties - although he did hit the game-winning home run in a pinch-hit role on Wednesday - and will likely get Saturday off against Buehrle.

"Situations where he's not playing every day helps, and we have to listen to signs (and see) if he needs a day off," Girardi said. "We're nto a stretch where we're running into I think about seven lefties in two weeks, so he's going to get some of those days off."

Another player who has hit Morrow well is Eduardo Nunez (5-for-12 with 1 RBI), who will remain the Yankees' starting shortstop for the time being after Derek Jeter was diagnosed with another ankle fracture on Thursday.

"He's done a pretty good job; I know he had his issues last year, but he's played a pretty good shortstop for us and has swung the bat well," Girardi said of Nunez.

Nunez has always hit well in the Majors but has been less reliable defensively, so much so last year that his miscues cost him his roster spot. Infield coach Mick Kelleher worked with Nunez on shortening his throwing motion in the spring, and Girardi said that, as well as consistent playing time, have helped him develop."

"He made the adjustment in Spring Training, and he's out there every day in the same spot. Last year I think we went a month without him playing, and then we started throwing him out there at different positions, which is kind of difficult for him," Girardi said. "Most utility guys, a lot of them are shortstops who learn other positions because they're a little bit older and weren't playing every day as a shortstop. Well, Nunez was still a kid, so it's a different adjustment, and it's not something he practiced in the Minors; he played shortstop every day."

Nunez told MLB.com's Bryan Hoch the same earlier Thursday, saying, "I feel more comfortable. I know I'm going to be out there every day in one position. If I make an error, I know what I have to do for the next day," and reiterated after the game that while he felt bad for Jeter, he knew that knowing he's playing in the same spot every day will benefit him as the season goes on.

One other player to watch will, of course, be outfielder Vernon Wells; one of four Yankees with Jays ties, Wells was drafted by the team in 1997 and spent 12 years in the Jays outfield, and hit .280 in that span. Wells still ranks second in franchise history in hits, homers and RBI and is third with 1,393 games played, and he's looking forward to his first visit to Canada in pinstripes.

Wells was loved during his time in Toronto and got a standing ovation in his first at-bat back in Toronto after being traded to the Angels, but said that after hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw, "the boos proceeded from there and it's been the same ever since" - and he joked that he doesn't see that changing, especially now that he's with a division rival.

"I'm sure it'll be eventful; now that I'm on a rival team, it should be fun," he smirked. "(The Toronto fans) enjoy getting on the opposing players, especially guys that used to play there, so I'm looking forward to hearing what comes out of their mouths."

No matter what's in store, however, the Yankees will look to continue a streak that has seen them go 7-2 since starting the season 0-4, and Girardi is confident that even coming off a tough loss, the last stretch has given his team the confidence they need to succeed.

"I like the way our guys are playing...I think we've done a really good job and I expect it to continue." Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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