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Orioles and Yankees resume rivalry on June 20

It's only June, but it's already becoming clear that this is a three-team race in the American League East. The Blue Jays, who sit atop the division, have lost nine of their last 13 allowing the Orioles and Yankees to tighten the race.

After New York completed a three-game sweep of Toronto on Thursday, just 2 1/2 games separate the three teams from each other.

"We're all kind of bunched together, so there's a lot of meaning to these games." said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

The Orioles begin a three-game series with the Yankees on Friday in the Bronx with a chance for both teams to create some space ahead of the other.

The Yankees enter the series tied with the Blue Jays in the loss column and 1 1/2 games out of first place. Meanwhile, Baltimore is only one game behind New York.

"They're always intense," Chris Davis said during the Orioles' series against the Blue Jays this past weekend. "Any time you play a division opponent, you want to win those games."

Struggling former All-Stars Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda will be on the mound for Baltimore and New York, respectively. Both starting pitchers come in to the game with ERAs higher than 4.30 -- so it may not be the marquee matchup it once was, but it can set the tone for a critical series.

"He's one of the best," O's manager Buck Showalter said of Jimenez. "It's a hard delivery to coach through, but his track record's been pretty true through the second half of the season. We're going to try to trust that."

Orioles: Extra rest for Ubaldo
Jimenez hasn't given Baltimore quite what it hoped for when the O's inked the righty to a $50 million deal this offseason. An extra two days' rest after one of his more productive recent outings, though, could be what it takes to get him throwing with more consistency.

"I hope," Showalter said. "Some people say, 'Well, then is it too far away from pitching?' In his case, he's responded well to it, so we hope it happens again."

Jimenez allowed just three hits and two earned runs in six innings against Toronto on June 13, but he also matched a season high with five walks. The Orioles are currently carrying an extra starter and have an off-day on Thursday, which gave Jimenez the extra days of rest.

Jimenez has a 4.86 ERA this season and leads the Majors with 45 walks. He has also struck out 68 batters this year.

Yankees: Johnson day to day
Kelly Johnson was removed during the sixth inning of Thursday's 6-4 win against the Blue Jays after bruising the fingers on his left hand during a bunt attempt.

Johnson briefly attempted to continue the at-bat with a 3-2 count, but he stepped out of the batter's box before Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup could offer another pitch and was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Johnson was batting .379 during his previous 10 games to earn him more playing time at third base.

"He'll be day to day and we'll see how he feels [Friday]," Girardi said.

Worth noting
• Kuroda and Jimenez were on the mound the first time Baltimore and the Yankees faced off this season. Jimenez allowed four runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Kuroda allowed two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3.

• Nelson Cruz's homer in the eighth inning of the O's 2-0 win against the Rays on Wednesday was his first since June 3, ending a 55 at-bat drought for the Major League home run leader.

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