Gray seeks first Yanks win in Toronto finale

Gray seeks first Yanks win in Toronto finale

Sonny Gray will make his second start in pinstripes Thursday night as the Blue Jays and Yankees wrap up their three-game series at Rogers Centre.

The Yankees hold the first Wild Card spot in the American League with a long list of teams, including the Blue Jays, comprising a crowded race for the second.

Over Gray's past seven starts, he has posted a 1.59 ERA and worked a minimum of six innings. His Yankees debut against the Indians on Aug. 3 ended in a loss, but the right-hander pitched well over six innings, allowing just two earned runs on four hits and striking out six.

Against the Blue Jays, Gray will be looking to deliver a complete performance.

"I feel like I threw the ball OK," the righty said after his start in Cleveland. "At the same time, if I can shut that sixth inning down, it's a completely different ballgame. It's just one of those things that kind of got away from me for a couple of hitters. They took advantage. It gave them all the momentum for the last three innings."

Toronto starter Marco Estrada's season is also on the upswing, albeit a more gradual one. Trade speculation surrounded Estrada ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but given the uncertainty of Toronto's fourth and fifth rotation spots, his ability to perform consistently is critical at this point.

In Estrada's past three starts, he owns a 2.83 ERA and has held opponents to just 12 hits over 19 innings. A key to Estrada's recent success has been a better combination of his fastball and changeup, which he works vertically up and down the zone to force weak contact through the air.

Three things to know about this game

• Josh Donaldson is heating up for the Blue Jays, and opened the series Tuesday with a pair of home runs that included his hardest-hit extra-base hit of the season at 111.3 mph. According to Statcast, his three hardest-hit home runs of the 2017 season have come since Aug. 1.

• Yanks outfielder -- and No. 2 prospect per MLBPipeline.com -- Clint Frazier was a late scratch Wednesday with right oblique tightness, and his status for Thursday is unknown. The 22-year-old is experiencing a minor skid, going 5-for-33 (.152) over his past eight games.

• Pitchers' evolving game plans against struggling Yankees slugger Aaron Judge have become clear: They're challenging Judge up in the zone with fastballs and getting him to chase down and away with sliders. The budding star has seen a higher rate of sliders since the break (20.7 percent of his pitches seen before the break, 25 percent since), and many more of them have been off the plate. In turn, he's chased more of those sliders (23.3 percent rate before, 30.1 percent since) and has whiffed at more than two-thirds of those he's swung at since winning the T-Mobile Home Run Derby. All this has culminated in Judge entering Wednesday hitless in 19 at-bats ending with a slider since the Midsummer Classic.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.