The Blue Jays and Athletics are in the midst of a crucial and difficult stretch of games leading up to the All-Star break.
After falling to the A's, 4-1, in the series opener on Thursday night at O.co Coliseum, the Blue Jays fell into a tie with the Orioles for first in the American League East.
The Blue Jays play their next nine contests on the road -- three more in Oakland, three against the Angels and three against the Rays -- before the Midsummer Classic on July 15. Meanwhile, the A's have a brutal 10-game run against the Blue Jays, Giants and surging Mariners before the All-Star Game.
On Friday, the A's and Jays square off in a Fourth of July matinee for the second of four games at O.co Coliseum.
"We've played some teams that have been in first place," said manager Bob Melvin, whose A's enter Friday leading the AL West. "Now the Blue Jays are in again, and really we got them started to an extent. We were there when they were going through their real hot streak."
Melvin isn't worried about the way the schedule plays out.
"We don't look too far into it, we just try to play the team that we're playing on a particular day and series and then move on to the next one, and that will be the case these next few," he said.
Much of their focus Friday will be on 23-year-old Toronto rookie Marcus Stroman, who'll be making just his seventh start of his big league career after entering the Blue Jays' rotation in late May. In June, Stroman went 2-2 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts. During that span, he held opponents to a .223 batting average over 30 1/3 innings while striking out 26 and walking eight. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound right-hander was effective and efficient, throwing 62 percent of his pitches for strikes while holding hitters to a .645 on-base plus slugging percentage.
In his last start, Stroman outdueled White Sox ace southpaw Chris Sale. Stroman allowed two runs on two hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings, but he settled for a no-decision after Toronto manager John Gibbons decided to insert reliever Dustin McGowan with two outs, two on and the Blue Jays leading in the seventh inning.
On his first pitch, McGowan gave up a three-run homer to White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo as Chicago went on to a 4-3 victory.
"It's tough, because obviously I want to be out there. I felt strong, but I'm also young, so that was Gibby's choice," Stroman said afterward. "Dustin has been great for us all year, so it's not like I was mad about coming out of the game. I had 100 percent confidence in Dustin to come in and get that out. It' just one of those things."
The A's will counter Friday with soft-throwing left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 6-3 with a 3.79 ERA this season. In his past 10 starts, the 27-year-old out of the University of Southern California is 6-0 with a 2.87 ERA while striking out 39 and walking 13.
A's: Lefty reliever O'Flaherty comes off DL
The A's reinstated left-hander Eric O'Flaherty from the 60-day disabled list on Thursday afternoon and designated southpaw Jeff Francis for assignment.
O'Flaherty had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in May 2013, and the A's signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal this January. He made eight appearances during a Minor League rehab assignment that began on June 6, posting a 3.86 ERA while holding opponents to a .188 average.
Melvin would ideally like to start using O'Flaherty in a few low-leverage situations.
"I'd like to get him in some games before we get him pitching in the seventh or eighth inning with two on," Melvin said. "In a perfect world, you'd like to get him in a couple of settings where it's a bit of a soft landing, but we'll see if that transpires."
Over the past five seasons, O'Flaherty has been one of the premier left-handed relievers in baseball, compiling a 1.99 ERA in 249 1/3 frames with Atlanta. Lefties are batting .200 against him for his career.
Toronto: Rasmus held out
Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus was held out of Thursday's game in Oakland after slamming into the fence and hurting his right wrist during Wednesday's 7-4 win over the Brewers.
Rasmus finished Wednesday's game, but his wrist still felt sore Thursday before Toronto opened up a four-game set against the A's. In 51 games, Rasmus is hitting .224 with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, 27 RBIs and a serviceable .756 OPS.
He is considered day to day.
"The trainers are checking with him," Gibbons said Thursday. "He didn't think it was too bad [Wednesday], but we've been wrong on those before."
• A's third baseman Josh Donaldson was out of the A's starting lineup for a second day in a row on Thursday because of back stiffness.
• Blue Jays southpaw reliever Brett Cecil will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday. Cecil hasn't made a Major League appearance since June 18, when he aggravated his groin pitching in New York.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.