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Notes: Jays' rotation comes around

Notes: Jays' rotation comes around

MINNEAPOLIS -- With 10 games to go before the All-Star break, the Blue Jays finally have their rotation where they want it -- winning.

Dating back to Dustin McGowan's almost-no-hitter on Sunday, the Jays starters have put together a string of solid performances that they hope to continue with A.J. Burnett coming off the disabled list in Thursday's start.

"Our pitching is really taking shape, and it's really saved us. We had some question marks coming into this season," manager John Gibbons said. "There's a couple guys that are in there now that weren't in there in the beginning, in McGowan and [Shaun] Marcum. We were struggling there for a while, but they've really taken off and really strengthened us. You tip your cap to them."

In the series finale against the Rockies, McGowan retired the first 10 batters he faced and had his no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning. In his previous start, McGowan allowed six runs in just 1 2/3 innings.

Ace Roy Halladay went seven innings on Monday and kept the Jays close enough for them to get the 7-5 win.

Marcum pitched an eight-inning gem on Tuesday against the Twins, but got the no-decision when the game went 12 innings. And to round out the string of great starts, Josh Towers made his fourth start Wednesday since coming out of the bullpen. He lasted 6 1/3 innings and gave up just three earned runs.

"I've always had confidence in these guys, it's just a matter of them getting out there and believing in themselves," Burnett said. "It's a tough four-man [rotation]. Usually, teams are looking for a one-two punch and get to three and four, but we've got four solid starters right here. And Towers is coming back and he's getting his pitch count up, and he's not throwing bad, either."

Gibbons and the team are looking for the same kind of performance out of Burnett, who hasn't pitched since June 12 because of shoulder soreness.

Burnett averaged 125 pitches in his three starts before going on the DL, but Gibbons said he won't be on a hard pitch count.

"He's coming off the DL, so we'll keep an eye on him and see how he's doing," Gibbons said. "We won't pitch him too hard. "

Finally! Frank Thomas drilled a three-run home run 396 feet to left field in the first inning of Thursday's game for his 500th career home run.

Coming into the four-game series against the Twins, the odds were with Thomas, who had hit 49 career home runs against Minnesota -- his most against any franchise. He also had 15 career shots in the Metrodome, where he hit his first career home run.

After going 0-for-7 in the first two games of the series, Thomas showed some improvement Wednesday night, going 1-for-2 with a single and two walks and finally getting the historic hit on Thursday.

Thomas is just the 21st player in baseball history to hit 500 career home runs.

Back to normal: After hitting leadoff for six games, Vernon Wells returned to the three-spot in the lineup for Thursday's game.

Wells, who was in an 0-for-17 slump before the move, went 8-for-26 in the leadoff spot with three home runs and eight RBIs.

Alex Rios, who had been batting second with Wells in the top spot, moved back to leadoff Thursday and led the game off with a single.

Time's running out: The chance for fans to vote their favorite Blue Jays onto the All-Star team ends Thursday at midnight. Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster 2007 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites.

Outfielders Wells and Rios, who were both All-Stars last year, are in contention again this year.

The All-Star Game, to be played on July 10 in San Francisco, will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will have exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.

Down on the farm: Triple-A Syracuse beat Charlotte, 7-2, Wednesday on the shoulders of Victor Zambrano's seven-inning, two-earned-run performance. Zambrano struck out eight. Kevin Barker had two hits, including a solo home run in the eighth inning. ... New Hampshire was nearly shut out, 12-1, in its loss to New Britain on Wednesday. Starter Eric Fowler gave up eight earned runs on 11 hits in his 3 2/3 innings. David Smith drove in the Fisher Cats' only run with a solo home run in the seventh. ... Class A Dunedin defeated Daytona on Wednesday, 6-5, scoring all of its runs in the last two innings. Cory Patton went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a run and an RBI.

Up next: McGowan will try to follow the one-hitter he threw in his last start with an equally impressive performance as the Blue Jays open up a series in Seattle on Friday. McGowan (4-3, 4.83) will face off against Jarrod Washburn (6-6, 4.09) at 10:05 p.m. ET.

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

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