Every player relishes the series of "firsts" that occur in the big leagues. First call-up. First game. First hit. First start. Every first is indelible.
Few express that feeling as well as Mariners rookie right-hander Chase De Jong, who is scheduled for his first big-league start Sunday in the series finale against Cleveland.
"This is incredible," he said. "My first major-league start. It’s a dream come true. I feel like I’ve been having a lot of those this month. It’s been an incredible month for me personally. This is something I’ve been dreaming of since being a little kid.
"I’m going to go out there, I’m going to toe the rubber. That mound is going to be almost pristine.
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"We’re the visitors. So (Indians starter Josh Tomlin) gets to be first, but I’m going to get to go through my whole routine at the beginning of the game. Bullpen, everything like that. It’s something I’m really looking forward to."
It’s been a whirlwind two months for De Jong, whom the Mariners acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a March 1 trade for two minor-league players (shortstop Drew Jackson and pitcher Aneurys Zabala).
The trade caught De Jong by surprise and, initially, it stung. De Jong, 23, grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and saw it as a perfect fit when the Dodgers acquired him in a July 15, 2015 trade from Toronto.
De Jong then put up a dominating season last year at Double-A Tulsa, where he was 14-5 with a 2.86 ERA, before getting added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster in November. That, too, was a big-league first and a thrill.
"It gave me that confidence," he said, "that, you know what, somebody is going to have a plan for me. I’m in somebody’s plans."
But the Dodgers had roster issues and a veteran rotation where De Jong didn’t yet fit, which made them receptive when the Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto kept calling.
"He’s a player we’ve tried to acquire multiple times dating back to last July," Dipoto said. "He’s an exceptional strike-thrower with above to well-above average command. He throws a ton of strikes."
De Jong opened the season on the big-league roster as a replacement for Dillon Overton, who was away on paternity leave. De Jong made his big-league debut in the season’s third game and surrendered a walk-off homer in the 13th inning.
A day later, Overton returned and De Jong headed for Triple-A Tacoma.
"A lot of people asked me if I was just going to forget about Houston," he said. "No. There’s stuff to learn from that. There’s stuff to learn from every outing."
What De Jong concluded was he made good pitches, got weak contact — even on the home run — and bad results. Despite the loss, it reaffirmed the process. So he didn’t change much when, recalled, he got another chance April 22 at Oakland.
The result was four shutout innings, which was a major factor in getting chosen to start Sunday against the Indians.
"I am so grateful to this organization for having the faith in me and giving me this opportunity," De Jong said. "They backed up what they said (after the trade). Here I am in April. It’s incredible.
"Now, I need to rise to the occasion and perform because they have that faith in me. I have that faith in myself. Now I just need to go put together the body of work."
CRUZ BACK IN LINEUP
Nelson Cruz returned Saturday to the Mariners’ lineup after missing Friday’s series opener because of a tight left hamstring.
The Mariners held off posting their lineup until Cruz had a chance to test his hamstring on some pre-game drills. He carried a .305 average into Saturday’s game with five homers and 19 RBIs.
Three things to note heading into Sunday’s pitching matchup between rookie right-hander Chase De Jong and Cleveland right-hander Josh Tomlin:
***De Jong is making his first major-league start and third major-league appearance. Tomlin is 4-1 with a 3.32 ERA in six career starts against the Mariners.
***No current Indians have ever faced De Jong in the big leagues.
***Robinson Cano is 7-for-17 (.412) with three doubles and two homers in his career against Tomlin. Kyle Seager is 6-for-12 (.500) with five doubles, but Mike Zunino is 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
Right-hander Dan Altavilla pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings Friday for Triple-A Tacoma in a 2-1 victory over Sacramento (Giants) at Cheney Stadium.
That came four days after getting roughed up for two runs and four hits in a single inning at Albuquerque (Rockies) in his first outing after his April 21 demotion.
***Veteran reliever Jean Machi closed out Tacoma’s victory and is 1-0 with four saves in seven appearances. He has not allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings.
The Mariners have used 32 players this season. Only the Dodgers (34) and Angels (33) have used more…Jarrod Dyson entered Saturday with a league-leading eight steals…former Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre, who is batting .273 in eight games for Tampa Bay, turns 29 on Sunday.
It was 31 years ago Sunday — April 30, 1986 — that the Mariners struck out 16 times in a 9-4 loss to the Red Sox in Boston.
Combined with a record 20 strikeouts the previous day against Roger Clemens, the two-day total of 36 also set a major-league record.
The Mariners and Indians conclude their three-game series at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Progressive Field when right-hander Chase De Jong (0-1 with a 5.79 ERA) opposes Cleveland righty Josh Tomlin (1-1, 9.33).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
Sunday’s game completes the Mariners’ three-city, 10-game road trip. They have an open date Monday before opening a six-game homestand Tuesday with the first of three games against the Los Angeles Angels.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners