‘Unbelievable’: Molleken cherishes debut after 13-year wait

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Dustin Molleken delivers against the Indians on Monday night.

Cleveland – Before we move forward, let’s take one last look back and tie up some loose ends from the Tigers’ 5-3 loss to the Indians that ended in the wee hours Tuesday morning.

* The coolest moment of the night – maybe other than the monster home runs by Steven Moya and Nick Castellanos – was the Major League debut of 31-year-old right-hander Dustin Molleken after 13 years in the minor leagues.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “That walk from the bullpen down through the tunnel and onto the field, it was like, ‘Wow, I’m here finally.' It was the best feeling in the world.”

He had been called up at 4:30 p.m. Monday after Jordan Zimmermann was placed on the DL. And he was thrust into the game in the third inning after Daniel Norris strained his right oblique.

The first batter he faced, Jason Kipnis, lashed a double, putting runners on second and third. Molleken may have been fighting his nerves on the inside, but he kept his poise. After a sacrifice fly, he struck out Mike Napoli and then got Jose Ramirez to get out of the inning.

He worked a quick and clean fourth inning, then left after giving up two straight singles in the fifth.

“He did a nice job,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He was very composed. He has a good fastball (94-96 mph) and he threw a couple of really good sliders.”

Molleken, who is from Regina, Saskatchewan, was in the Pirates, Rockies, Brewers and Indians organizations before signing with the Tigers. He’s also pitched parts of two seasons in Japan.

He was called up last month but never got into a game.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “It took me 13 years, but I’m finally here.”

Was it worth the wait?

“Of course,” he said.

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* The Tigers aren’t fond of the term “snake-bit” when it comes to the 10-game losing streak against the Indians. For good reason. They’ve been severely outplayed in the majority of those losses.

But they had some things go against them Monday, not the least of which was Norris straining his oblique reaching for a routine ground ball.

They also hit some balls extremely hard, in big moments, directly at Indians defenders. A potential RBI single by Castellanos in the eighth was turned into a double play. Earlier in the game, Jose Iglesias hit a rocket up the middle, right at a perfectly-positioned Francisco Lindor, who turned that into a double play, as well.

The last out of the game was another double-play ball – with a disputed final out at first. Iglesias looked like he beat the relay throw to first and was initially called safe. The Indians challenged the call and after reviewing several replay angles, none of which seemed conclusive, the call was overturned.

“I was a little bit surprised,” Ausmus said. “They did have a super slo-mo shot that came down. But I’m still unsure that Napoli had the ball before Iglesias was on the base. For me, it was not conclusive.

“But, maybe they saw something I didn’t, or have better eyes.”

Had Iglesias been safe, there would have been two outs with Ian Kinsler coming up, representing the tying run.

“You feel like you have a chance,” Ausmus said. “We’ve beat longer odds than that.”

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* Castellanos is one of the few Tigers hitters feasting on Indians pitching this season. After his homer and double, he is 12 for 35, with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs.

“He does enjoy, I believe, being in the batter’s box on the big stage and in the big games,” Ausmus said. “I think that plays into his psyche a little bit.”

The 15 home runs ties his career-high, 74 games earlier than he set the bar last year.

And in keeping with the Tigers’ luck against the Indians, Castellanos had to be pulled from the lineup Tuesday because of flu-like symptoms. Mike Aviles replaced him at third base.

* Bruce Rondon did serve up the game-winning two-run bomb by Napoli in the seventh inning Monday, but that was a rare blemish for the bullpen recently.

According to research first displayed by Fox Sports Detroit, since June 19, the bullpen leads the American League with 60 innings pitched, a 2.25 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP.

Twitter @cmccosky