It was a short jog for David Rollins from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound, but a longer personal journey that began with an 80-game suspension.
OAKLAND, Calif. — David Rollins made the short jog in from the visitors’ bullpen to the pitcher’s mound of O.co Coliseum. His path was simple and direct and filled with promise — nothing like the last three months he endured.
Called up to the big leagues on Saturday morning from Class AAA Tacoma along with outfielder James Jones and right-handed reliever Mayckol Guaipe, Rollins was making his major-league debut just hours later. He entered the game in the eighth inning in relief of Felix Hernandez with the Mariners trailing, 2-0.
“I was a little nervous,” he said with a wide smile. “I didn’t let it take over. I just remembered what I’ve always done, and it felt really good.”
When the inning ended, the Mariners were still trailing 2-0 and Rollins had retired the side in order, striking out Ike Davis, getting Brett Lawrie to fly out to right field and getting Eric Sogard to pop out to shortstop.
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“The first time is definitely one I will remember forever,” he said. “Once I got past being nervous and settling down and went after the hitters like I’ve been doing. After I got that first out, I was like, ‘Whew.’ ”
Manager Lloyd McClendon was happy to get Rollins that first game experience to make things easier for him in the future.
“It was a clean inning,” he said. “It was a nice inning for him.”
Realistically, Rollins should have made his big-league debut sometime in April. As a Rule 5 draft selection, the Mariners had to keep Rollins on their 25-man roster or send him back to the Houston Astros, from whom they drafted him.
Rollins looked like he would be a keeper with a brilliant spring training.
“He was a front-runner to make our club in spring training,” McClendon said. “I don’t think that was any secret.”
But that plan ended when Rollins tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug Stanozolol and received an 80-game suspension. He admitted his guilt, saying he was trying to recover from some shoulder soreness stemming from pitching in winter ball.
The quick, illegal fix left him embarrassed and humiliated.
“For about a week, it was one of those deals where, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ ” Rollins said. “I could have ruined the rest of my career. I could be getting sent home and never get to play baseball again. I thought about that all the time. It got to the point where I just had to look past it and move forward. That’s the only way to go.”
He may be looking past the experience, but he will never forget it. It’s there to remind him how much he could have lost.
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “I had to do a lot of soul-searching. I feel like I’ve done really well with turning this big negative into a better positive.”
Rollins leaned on his family and friends to get him through the early days of the suspension.
“I disappointed a lot of people,” he said. “But they never left my side. They were there from day one till now.”
The Mariners even suggested he attend some drug-and-alcohol-abuse-awareness classes while he was in Phoenix working out.
“At first, it was like, `Why am I here?’ ” he said. “Then after being there for a few days, I went open-minded, and it helped me get stuff out that I’ve had in the past. It’s changed me into a completely different person.”
But he’s still the same pitcher who was getting outs in the spring. His fastball was up to 96 mph in his seven-game stint with Class AAA Tacoma, where he didn’t allow a run in 91/3 innings. It’s why the Mariners called him up when the suspension was lifted instead of sending him back to the Astros.
“I feel like I’m still dreaming,” he said. “I had a chance to do it out of spring training and kind of got set back. I’ve been working hard every day to get back here, and it’s nice to see the hard work is starting to pay off.”