C.J. Cron isn't necessarily happy about his reduced role with the Los Angeles Angels this season. But when playing time does come, he's determined to make the most of it.
Cron did just that Sunday as a pinch hitter, connecting for a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the eighth inning and powering the Angels to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It's nothing I can control, so I'm just going to go out there and do whatever I can to help the team," Cron said. "However many at-bats it is per week, I'm going to be ready for them and thankfully today I was able to help out a little bit."
It was 2-all when Cron swung at the first pitch he saw from Adam Kolarek and sent it into the right field seats. Cron had a simple mindset to keep Kolarek, who entered after Andrelton Simmons singled with one out off Jumbo Diaz (1-4), from getting settled.
"Be ready to hit," Cron said. "It's been a little bit since I've had an at-bat and didn't want to give him a pitch there. Wanted to be aggressive because that's the kind of hitter I am and fortunately it was a good pitch to him and put a good swing on it."
Cron was making just his fourth appearances for the Angels this month, but came through with the club's first pinch-homer since Jefry Marte on June 9, 2016.
David Hernandez (1-0) got rewarded for one inning of scoreless relief as the Angels avoided a three-game sweep, but only after escaping a jam in the ninth to hold off the Rays.
Trailing 4-2, the Rays scored once in the ninth and loaded the bases with one out. Bud Norris got Tim Beckham to ground into a double play for his 14th save, ending the Rays' four-game winning streak.
Evan Longoria doubled off Norris and Logan Morrison singled. Steven Souza Jr. hit an RBI single and a walk loaded the bases for Beckham, who promptly hit it to Simmons. Cron said the game-ending 6-4-3 double play was a given when it ended up with the sure-handed defender.
"Simmons makes every play, so I knew we were going to get them there," Cron said.
Albert Pujols put the Angels ahead in the fifth with an RBI single. Martin Maldonado squeezed home another run in the sixth, with Simmons scoring just ahead of catcher Jesus Sucre's tag.
Morrison hit his 26th homer, a two-run drive off Parker Bridwell that tied it in the seventh. Bridwell struck out eight and allowed six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Chris Archer gave up two runs on five hits with nine strikeouts in six innings. The Rays missed a chance to complete their first road series sweep since June 2016.
"That stunk, but really happy with the way the guys responded there in the ninth," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We just came up a little bit short."
When Bridwell first stepped onto the mound, Cash was reminded of Jered Weaver. Outside of one pitch to Morrison that Bridwell said just broke a bit too much over the plate, he delivered a performance more than reminiscent of the long-time Angels ace.
"Real thin and you could tell he had some deception," Cash said. "We couldn't figure out their pitcher. They couldn't quite figure him out until LoMo came up with the big two-run homer to tie it."
While Angels manager Mike Scioscia pointed out the flaws in Cash's comparison, noting different styles in delivery and approach, Bridwell is starting to put together outings to invite such connections. He has gone at least six innings in each of his last four starts, giving some relief to the overworked bullpen. Bridwell didn't give up a run in last start before the All-Star break, though the logistics of roster management resulted in a busy travel schedule.
Bridwell was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake after picking up the win against Minnesota to free up a roster spot, joining the minor league affiliate for a road series in El Paso, Texas before returning to Utah for a regular bullpen session. After taking a couple days off during the All-Star Game, Bridwell returned to Salt Lake for another workout to prepare to rejoin the Angels.
"I understood just cause they didn't need five starters. It's always better when you can carry people you can use," Bridwell said of the juggling.
Rays: C Wilson Ramos could return to action Monday after missing the last two games with a tweaked hamstring.
Angels: 2B Danny Espinosa was designated for assignment after hitting .162 in 77 games this season. Nick Franklin got the start at 2B against the Rays, going 1 for 3 with a walk, and is expected to platoon with Cliff Pennington going forward.
Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi (5-4, 4.63 ERA) spent the All-Star break trying to address his inconsistent mechanics and will get to test those adjustments when the Rays open a three-game series at Oakland on Monday.
Angels: RHP Jesse Chavez (5-10, 4.99) will try to break a three-game losing streak when the Angels open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. Chavez has won just one of his last nine starts and hasn't picked up a victory at home since May 15.
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