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Cron goes deep vs. Halos in return to Anaheim

Rays slugger came up with Angels, was traded to TB in February
Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Former Angels slugger C.J. Cron headed for Angel Stadium on Thursday, but his destination was unfamiliar.

"I've never been here before," the Rays designated hitter said while eyeing the visiting clubhouse. "I just kept following the tunnel around until I found it."

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ANAHEIM -- Former Angels slugger C.J. Cron headed for Angel Stadium on Thursday, but his destination was unfamiliar.

"I've never been here before," the Rays designated hitter said while eyeing the visiting clubhouse. "I just kept following the tunnel around until I found it."

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Cron came up with the Angels, making his debut in 2014 when the team won the American League West. He was acquired by Tampa Bay in a trade this past offseason, thanks to a logjam at first base and DH in Anaheim. So when the trade winds started swirling, they didn't knock Cron over.

"I wouldn't say I was completely shocked," he said. "With the [Shohei] 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."

Cron homered off Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs in the sixth inning Thursday, getting the Rays on the board and sparking them to a 7-1 win.

"It was a fun trip around the bases," said Cron, who struck out against Skaggs twice earlier. "He just gave me a better pitch than he did in the first two at-bats. ... I think [the home run] got us going a little bit."

Cron has met the Rays' expectations by rolling into his old haunts -- he was born in nearby Fullerton, Calif. -- with a club-high 11 home runs batting mostly in the No. 2 hole. That's more than halfway to his career high of 16, and he's now had five straight seasons of double-digit roundtrippers.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Cron continues to pay dividends.

"He has really, really impacted us in the spot that he hits," Cash said. "It's him coming up in crucial situations, like what he did in Kansas City when he had a part in those [three] wins."

Video: TB@KC: Cron crushes a 2-run homer to open scoring

When Cron came to these parts, he called two buddies for Thursday lunch: the Angels' Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun.

"We talked about all the off-the-field stuff," Cron said. "It was good to see them."

If tempted to peek in the Angels' clubhouse, the memories are warm for Cron. As a youngster learning the ropes, he felt teammates pulling in his direction.

"They pretty much taught me how to play the game," he said. "When I was a rookie, you look at the veterans in the clubhouse with Trout, [Albert] Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver ... those guys have a lot of years under their belt. You could see how they go about their business and what it meant to be a professional athlete in the big leagues. They were definitely instrumental to where I am today."

That's near the top of the Rays' lineup, and things have gone swimmingly. Instead of fighting for plate appearances, Cron is an anchor and that's why he's shined.

"I have to say the at-bats, just being in there every day," said Cron, who is hitting .293 with 27 RBIs. "Coming to the park every day knowing I'm going to be in that two-hole allows me to make the necessary adjustments that you need to do at this level.

"I can maybe use an at-bat to work on something. Where if you're playing three days a week, your career hinges on that day."

It's a career that started with the team he grew up cheering for, and Cron won't ever forget that. He recalls his first game with the Angels in 2014 as "something I had dreamed about, and to have my family in the stands was pretty special.

"They gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues. This is a special place, and I played four years here. I don't regret any of it."

Arroyo makes debut
Infielder Christian Arroyo made his Rays debut in the series opener with the Angels, batting seventh and playing third base, and he collected his first two hits, going 2-for-5 with a run scored. Cash said the right-handed-hitting Arroyo will be used regularly. The Rays are scheduled to face two lefty starters in the four-game series with the Angels and at least that many in their following set against the Red Sox.

Video: TB@LAA: Arroyo singles for his first hit with Rays

"He is going to play," Cash said. "He made a really, really good impression in Spring Training."

Arroyo, who was hitting .200 at Triple-A Durham, was among the key pieces acquired in the Evan Longoria trade with San Francisco in December. Cash said Arroyo could also see time at shortstop and second base.

Matt Duffy (hamstring) is close to returning to the lineup, and he'll play either third base or be the DH.

Injury updates
• Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) was scheduled to pitch a three-inning or 50-pitch rehab start for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Friday and then stay with the affiliate to throw a bullpen session.

"Then we will see where he's at," Cash said. "We're probably another rehab start away from making a decision."

Yonny Chirinos (forearm), another right-hander, is slated to throw a bullpen session on Friday or Saturday.

Jay Paris is a contributor to MLB.com based in San Diego.

Tampa Bay Rays, Christian Arroyo, C.J. Cron