Marcum eager to put playoff struggles in past

By John Pesetski
Special to

PHOENIX – Spring training is a time of optimism in Major League Baseball. And though optimism abounds at the Milwaukee Brewers’ Maryvale complex, there is also a quiet, yet palpable, determination to build on the experiences of 2011.

Perhaps no player embodies that mix of optimism and determination more than starting pitcher Shaun Marcum.

Acquired by the Brewers in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2010, the 30-year-old right-hander was one of the Brewers’ top pitchers in 2011, posting a 13-7 record and 3.54 ERA. Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Marcum pitched a career-high 200 2/3 innings and led Brewers starters with a 1.156 WHIP.

He started out extremely well in 2011, receiving consideration for the National League All-Star team in the process of winning 10 games through the end of July. Marcum was particularly sharp away from Miller Park with a full-season 8-3 road record and 2.21 ERA. He even hit a grand slam in a July 4 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and posted a 2.95 ERA in August.

But September hit hard with a 5.17 ERA, and the playoffs were even worse. Starting once against Arizona in the National League Division Series and twice against St. Louis in the NLCS, Marcum went 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA. In the sixth and deciding game of the NLCS, he lasted only one inning, making 27 pitches and giving up four runs.

But neither Marcum nor the Brewers seem to be dwelling on the pitcher’s postseason struggles. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, through a series of texts and conversations, made a point to keep in touch with Marcum throughout the offseason.

“I appreciated what he did for this team and that he’s a huge part of the success of this team,” said Roenicke, who is expecting nothing less than a return to Marcum’s April-to-August form of a year ago.

For his part, Marcum is ready to build on both the ups and downs of his 2011 season. Overcoming his doubters – whether in returning from surgery or simply getting big results without a big arm – motivates the career 50-game winner.

“I’ve felt like being only 5-10 and throwing 88 to 90 mph, I’ve had to prove people wrong my whole life, and I’m looking forward to it,” Marcum said Tuesday.

During the offseason, Marcum made adjustments to his delivery and modified his training program to focus more on his lower body, including adding more distance running. Two days into spring training, he feels confident in the work he’s done.

“Now I need to make sure my mechanics are on,” he said.

A groundball pitcher, Marcum should benefit from offseason improvements the Brewers made to their infield defense. After ranking 13th in the National League in fielding percentage in 2011, the team used free agency to add two former All-Stars to the left side of the infield: shortstop Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Gonzalez committed only 12 errors in 149 games with the Braves last year, and Ramirez made just 14 miscues in 149 outings for the Cubs. In 2011, the Brewers’ primary starters at shortstop and third base had 41 errors combined.

“I got to play with Alex Gonzalez in Toronto,” Marcum said. “He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. And Aramis is going to make plays at third.”

With the adjustments out of the way, and the pieces in place behind him, all that’s left for Marcum is to prove last fall was an aberration.

“I’m a lot more motivated this year,” he said. “I was motivated last year, but after the postseason and some of my September starts, I’m even more motivated.”