TORONTO -- With the Blue Jays coming off back-to-back losses and starting a stretch of important divisional games, the return of ace Roy Halladay couldn't come at a better time.

Halladay has been out with a strained right groin since June 13, and on Friday, he declared himself ready to start Monday's game against the Rays. Halladay was officially activated from the 15-day disabled list Sunday.

"It's always nice to have Doc back," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said on Friday. "We've hung in there and played pretty good without him, but we certainly would've been better with him. Any time you have a quality pitcher like Doc Halladay pitching for you, you come to the ballpark with a different feeling -- the players do. You play behind a pitcher who gives you a chance to win every time he goes out there."

Halladay has put together another All-Star-caliber season, posting a 2.53 ERA in 14 starts, spanning 103 innings. His 10 wins are tied for the Major League lead.

The Jays' workhorse returns as the club heads into its first meeting with the Rays -- a team that took 11 of 18 games against Toronto in 2008 -- of the season. The Rays' 5-2 win over the Marlins on Sunday, coupled with the Jays' loss, moved Tampa Bay ahead of Toronto for third place in the American League East.

"They're a good ballclub," Gaston said of the Rays. "We had some good tight battles with them last year. We finally beat them two out of three at home, but they'd always beat us two out of three, and we were that close to winning a ball game with them each time. There weren't any blowout games or anything like that, just good baseball. Hopefully we come out on top of it."

The three-game set with Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre kicks off a stretch in which six of the Jays' next seven series will come against their divisional rivals in the AL East.

"You always need wins with teams in your division," Gaston said. "That's why really I prefer to play the division than play the others. You can determine where you're going to go pretty quick.

Pitching matchup
TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (10-1, 2.53 ERA)
Halladay makes his first start since June 12 after missing just over two weeks with a right groin strain. He left his last start two pitches into the fourth inning of the Jays' 7-5 loss to the Marlins at Rogers Centre, giving up one run en route to a no-decision. It was the only one of Halladay's 13 starts this season in which the right-hander did not pitch at least seven innings. Over his past 10 games, Halladay has gone 7-0 with a 2.07 ERA, 62 strikeouts and nine walks.

TB: RHP Jeff Niemann (6-4, 4.23 ERA)
Niemann was pushed back two days to get Scott Kazmir back into the Rays' rotation. Niemann struggled with his control June 21 against the Mets when he walked four and left the game with the Rays trailing, 2-0. The Rays came back to take a 4-2 lead to get Niemann off the hook. He uses his 6-foot-9 frame to create a downward angle on his pitches that can be extremely difficult for hitters to hit. When he is throwing his breaking pitches for strikes, he usually finds success. He has not faced the Blue Jays in his career.

Bird Feed
Aaron Hill hit his 18th and 19th home runs of the season Sunday, breaking the club record for home runs by a second baseman in a season. Roberto Alomar set the record in 1993 with 17 long balls, and Hill tied it in 2007. ... Through Saturday, Hill's 163 total bases and left fielder Adam Lind's 158 ranked first and second, respectively, among AL hitters. ... Scott Rolen's double in the third inning on Sunday extended his career-high hitting streak to 16 games -- the longest active streak in the Majors. Rolen is hitting .439 over that span. ... Going into Sunday's action, Alex Rios was third in the AL with nine stolen bases in June.

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Up next
• Tuesday: Blue Jays (Scott Richmond, 6-4, 3.68) vs. Rays (Matt Garza, 5-5, 3.61), 7:07 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Blue Jays (Ricky Romero, 5-3, 3.20) vs. Rays (James Shields, 6-5, 3.41), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Off-day