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6/23/2014 10:59 P.M. ET

Girardi: Injuries will be key to deciding AL East race

TORONTO -- Being in the midst of a 13-game stretch against division rivals, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said his club is well positioned as the gap between the Blue Jays and the rest of the pack in the American League East closes.

Entering Monday's series in Toronto, the Blue Jays held a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees and the Orioles as the season nears its halfway point.

The Yankees came into the series opener 15-11 against the division this season, and had won four of their last six against AL East teams, including a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium last week.

"Playing a team that's ahead of us in our division, you have a chance to make up ground," said Girardi. "And they think they've got a chance to put in some separation. It's important to both teams."

Girardi said he expects that, in the end, the winner of the division will be the team that best handles injuries.

The Yankees have endured their share of injury troubles this season, but have weathered those challenges relatively well.

The team's rotation has been hit particularity hard in that regard, with starters Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia all on the disabled list.

"I've often said that I believe this division might be won by the team that handles the injuries the best," said Girardi. "[The Blue Jays] have had some [injuries] pop up.

"We've had to deal with some things this year, too. And I think our guys have done a pretty good job. Asking guys to fill in holes that maybe they weren't expecting to. Giving us a chance to win almost every night. You lose 60 percent of your rotation, it's not easy to replace, and we're right there in the middle of it. So we're in a pretty good situation, in a sense."

After wrapping their three-game series in Toronto on Wednesday, the Yankees will host the Red Sox and Rays in back-to-back three-game series.

Girardi: Solarte's struggles may benefit rookie

TORONTO -- Kelly Johnson started at third base for the eighth time in the past 10 games Monday, as rookie Yangervis Solarte continues to struggle at the plate.

"[Johnson] has been swinging the bat pretty well, he's had some good at-bats the last week and a half, and we kind of went with it," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "But it doesn't mean it's always going to be like that."

Solarte had fallen into a deep slump after starting the season at a torrid pace. The 26-year-old entered Monday's series opener hittless in his last nine games, and batting .065 (2-for-31) in his last 10.

But the switch-hitter entered Monday's game to play defense late, and knocked an RBI single in his only at-bat in the Yankees' 8-3 loss.

Girardi said Solarte's struggles aren't concerning, and considering he's a rookie, having the experience of scuffling at the big league level can actually be beneficial.

"He's frustrated by it, but you have to keep it in perspective as a player, and understand that all good hitters go through it," Girardi said. "It's not the first time you've been through it, it's just at a different level and you'll come out of it if you keep putting in good at-bats."

Solarte's 30 RBIs are third among Major League rookies, trailing only the White Sox's Jose Abreu and the Astros' George Springer. The Venezuela native tore through the first two months of the season, hitting .299 with 26 RBIs and six homers through March-April and May.

Prospect O'Brien has two-homer night for Trenton

Catcher Peter O'Brien, the Yankees' No. 20 prospect, hit two home runs Monday, but it wasn't enough to lead Double-A Trenton to victory. The Thunder lost, 9-3, at Bowie.

O'Brien finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. He now has hit 25 home runs this season, the third most in the Minor Leagues. He trails only Rangers No. 4 prospect Joey Gallo (27) and Cubs No. 2 prospect Kris Bryant (26).

Entering Monday's game, O'Brien hadn't homered in seven consecutive games, his longest drought of the season. He ended that streak in his second at-bat of the night, hitting a two-run shot off Bowie starter Tyler Wilson in the fourth inning. He added a solo blast in the eighth against Chris Petrini.

O'Brien began the season with Class A Advanced Tampa and hit .321/.353/.688 with 10 home runs in 30 games before getting promoted to Trenton. With the Thunder, he is hitting .228/.277/.543 with 15 home runs in 42 games.

Though O'Brien caught Monday, he has shared those duties with Yankees No. 1 prospect Gary Sanchez. It was O'Brien's 13th game behind the plate with Trenton, and he also has seen time at first base, right field and designated hitter.

Sanchez served as the designated hitter Monday and went 1-for-3 with a run and a walk. He is hitting .260/.329/.420 with eight home runs in 60 games this season.

-- Teddy Cahill

Bombers bits

• Mark Teixeira was back in the lineup for the Yankees at first base Monday after leaving Sunday's loss against the Orioles when he was hit in the left foot by a pitch.

"I checked with him when he got here," said Girardi. "I waited to put him in the lineup to make sure his foot was all right, and he said it felt pretty good. So that's encouraging."

• Sabathia is scheduled to throw 35 pitches on Tuesday, either in a bullpen session or a simulated game, said Girardi.

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.