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Angels can't contain Cron, Rays in defeat

Skaggs allows just a solo HR to former teammate before 'pen stumbles
MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- C.J. Cron received a smattering of polite applause when he stepped into the box to face Tyler Skaggs in the first inning on Thursday night, marking his first at-bat at Angel Stadium since the Angels traded him to the Rays in exchange for Minor League infielder Luis Rengifo in February. But those cheers turned to groans in the sixth, when Cron homered for the third consecutive game to help send his former club to a 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay.

Skaggs and Rays right-hander Chris Archer found themselves engaged in a pitchers' duel for most of the night and matched each other with five scoreless innings to start the game, but Cron finally broke the deadlock with a leadoff homer in the sixth. Cron hammered a changeup from Skaggs into the Rays' bullpen in left field for his 11th home run of the season.

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ANAHEIM -- C.J. Cron received a smattering of polite applause when he stepped into the box to face Tyler Skaggs in the first inning on Thursday night, marking his first at-bat at Angel Stadium since the Angels traded him to the Rays in exchange for Minor League infielder Luis Rengifo in February. But those cheers turned to groans in the sixth, when Cron homered for the third consecutive game to help send his former club to a 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay.

Skaggs and Rays right-hander Chris Archer found themselves engaged in a pitchers' duel for most of the night and matched each other with five scoreless innings to start the game, but Cron finally broke the deadlock with a leadoff homer in the sixth. Cron hammered a changeup from Skaggs into the Rays' bullpen in left field for his 11th home run of the season.

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"It was a rough one, especially to a guy who is one of my really good friends," Skaggs said. "It's frustrating. But hey, you live and learn."

Video: TB@LAA: Cron belts a solo HR against his former team

Skaggs departed after allowing only one run over six innings, but the Rays padded their lead by scoring six runs off the Angels' bullpen. Denard Span's two-run shot off Jim Johnson highlighted a four-run seventh, and Tampa Bay added a pair of runs in the eighth on Johnny Field's homer off Felix Pena.

The Angels' scuffling offense, meanwhile, mustered only two hits and four walks against Archer, who fired 6 2/3 scoreless innings. They didn't get on the board until Shohei Ohtani launched his sixth home run of the season off Austin Pruitt in the ninth to snap the Angels' 21-inning scoreless streak. The Angels have now lost three in a row and five of their last seven to fall to 25-19.

Video: TB@LAA: Ohtani launches a solo homer to center in 9th

"These guys will get it together," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're not firing on all cylinders. We're putting a lot of pressure on our starting pitching right now. When these guys start swinging like we can and we can keep the pitching going, we're going to be fine."

Even star center fielder Mike Trout has sunk into an uncharacteristic slump, finishing 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to extend his hitless drought to a career-worst 19 at-bats.

"It's just timing," Trout said. "I'm just late right now. Obviously, my results aren't there, but my last at-bat felt better, so work off that."

Making matters worse was the fact that the Angels saw Justin Upton, their hottest hitter this month, exit the game in the sixth after being struck on the left hand by a 95-mph fastball from Archer. The club announced that initial X-rays did not reveal a fracture, and Upton is considered day to day, a rare bit of good news on an otherwise dreary night for the Angels.

Video: TB@LAA: Upton day-to-day after getting hit in hand

Cron, who went 2-for-5 with a stolen base on Thursday and is now batting .293, was the Angels' first-round Draft pick in 2011 and broke into the Majors with the club in 2014, but he became expendable following the acquisition of Ohtani in December. With Albert Pujols set to play more first base to accommodate Ohtani at designated hitter, the Angels had little playing time to offer Cron, who would have also had to compete for at-bats with Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marte.

"I wouldn't say I was completely shocked," Cron said before the game. "With the Ohtani signing, there was going to be some roster malfunction there with a lot of different first basemen. So when it actually happens, it's a little bit of a shock, but I was expecting it."

SOUND SMART
• Angels starters have now allowed three or fewer runs in 17 straight games, setting a franchise record. They have also produced quality starts in seven of their eight games this homestand, but they've earned a winning decision just once.

"I think we have a nice quiet competitiveness," said Skaggs, who lowered his ERA to 2.88. "We want to outdo the other guy. We're on a good roll. We started off pretty slow, but I think we've done a good job of picking it up."

Video: TB@LAA: Skaggs strikes out Cron in the 1st

• Five of Ohtani's six home runs have been hit out to center field. Only the Nationals' Bryce Harper has hit more homers to center (six) this season. Harper is tied for second in the Majors with 13 home runs.

"I wish I could have hit it earlier in the game, which could have resulted in a different outcome," Ohtani said of his ninth-inning shot.

HE SAID IT
"It was a fun trip around the bases. He just gave me a better pitch than he did in the first two at-bats." -- Cron, on homering off Skaggs

UP NEXT
Right-hander Nick Tropeano will take the mound for the Angels and start opposite Rays left-hander Blake Snell on Friday night at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Tropeano allowed three runs over six innings in his last start on Saturday against the Twins. He is 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA in two career appearances against the Rays, though he hasn't faced them since July 4, 2016.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Jim Johnson, Tyler Skaggs, Justin Upton