Marcum highlights group of returnees
Jays starter learned from demotion to Triple-A Syracuse
TORONTO -- Shaun Marcum learned that nothing is guaranteed after a stunning demotion to the Minor Leagues less than two weeks ago. During his brief stint with Triple-A Syracuse, the Blue Jays starter realized that the same lesson could carry over to next season.
"I don't know about next year right now," Marcum said. "I saw some of the younger guys in our system down there and they've got some good stuff. It's going to be an interesting spring next year with those guys competing for a job as well. So, I've got to just come out here and prove that I belong here."
The Jays are certainly giving Marcum that opportunity. On Tuesday, the pitcher was back with the club, which added four others to its expanded roster. Marcum highlighted the group of returnees and the right-hander -- sent to Syracuse to work on his pitch command -- will be slotted back into the rotation on Saturday.
Toronto also recalled pitchers Scott Richmond and Brian Wolfe from Triple-A, and they'll both be added to the club's bullpen. Catcher Curtis Thigpen and outfielder Kevin Mench were promoted from Syracuse as well, and the Jays activated outfielder Brad Wilkerson from the 15-day disabled list.
On Aug. 23, roughly an hour before Toronto took on Boston at Rogers Centre, Marcum was called into the clubhouse and informed that he was being sent to Triple-A. The news came as a shock to Marcum, who has established himself over the past two seasons as a reliable workhouse for the Jays.
"I was a little disappointed," Marcum said. "It's a thing where you have to go down there and it kind of humbles you a little bit. ... I almost wanted to just go home, but I kind of looked back and thought about it and I care about this team and these guys too much to leave them like that."
Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said he understood Marcum's reaction and would've been more surprised if the pitcher wasn't upset about the demotion.
"I don't know anybody who feels good having something taken away from them," Ricciardi said. "But that's what you want. And, obviously, you want someone to go down and work on what they were supposed to work on."
There were rumors that Marcum's demotion stemmed from an attitude issue on the pitcher's part, but manager Cito Gaston and Ricciardi have both denied that was the case. Marcum seemed surprised to learn that anyone would think he had been a problem in that regard.
"I think my attitude has been fine," Marcum said. "I haven't been disrespectful. I haven't thought I've been too big or anything like that. I just take the ball when it's my turn and go out and pitch. If things didn't go my way, then I tried to get better for the next one."
What hadn't been fine was Marcum's command. Following a bout with a right elbow injury, the 26-year-old Marcum returned from a month-long stint on the DL on July 22 and went 3-2 with a 6.19 ERA over seven outings. In 36 1/3 innings over that span, the righty recorded 23 strikeouts, 16 walks and a .295 opponents' batting average.
Prior to landing on the DL, Marcum was one of the top starter's in the AL, posting a 2.65 ERA while limiting hitters to a .198 average over 15 starts. He struck out 86 and walked just 27 over 98 2/3 innings and logged at least six innings in each of his starts, with the exception of a rain-shortened outing on May 18.
In his two-start tour with Syracuse, Marcum posted a 2.77 ERA, allowing four earned runs on 10 hits over 13 innings. Along the way, he struck out 15 and issued just three walks. On Monday, Marcum made his final start for the Chiefs and yielded one earned run on five hits with six strikeouts and a walk over six innings.
"Shaun's been great with the whole thing," Ricciardi said. "He's been absolutely great. He went down and he worked on the things he needed to work on."
After throwing just one pitch upon arriving in Syracuse, Chiefs pitching coach Rick Langford stopped Marcum from throwing and pointed out some mechanical flaws. Langford noted that Marcum was rushing through his motion, among other things, and worked with the pitcher on slowing his delivery in order to focus on his method.
During his two starts in the Minors, Marcum concentrated on throwing his fastball for strikes -- an issue he was having since returning from the DL. Marcum said that roughly two-thirds of the pitches he threw were fastballs -- a way to focus more on his location and less on results. Marcum is hoping his command continues to improve throughout September.
Otherwise, Marcum now knows that he won't necessarily have a job waiting for him come Spring Training. Along with Marcum, Toronto has a handful of young arms -- Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, David Purcey, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero -- who could be in the running for starting roles next season.
"I don't have anything guaranteed to me," Marcum said. "I don't have a five- or six-year contract in my hand."
It's still an open question whether or not A.J. Burnett will be back in 2009 (he has the ability to opt out of his contract and become a free agent) and Dustin McGowan, who underwent season-ending surgery on July 31, might not be a factor until at least May. Ricciardi said the club has even discussed putting setup man Scott Down in the mix for a rotation spot.
"Going into next year, depending on what A.J. decides to do," Ricciardi said, "We've got a lot of arms here that are going to be competing for jobs. We're going to put the best group out there that we think can help us get to where we want to go."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.