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04/02/10 10:00 AM ET

Marcum takes long road toward opener

Jays to trot out pitcher other than Doc for Opening Day

Shaun Marcum walked off the mound at Rogers Centre in Toronto and headed straight for the training room. The Blue Jays pitcher knew something was wrong with his throwing arm. Fingers on his right hand were numb after logging two innings against the Orioles.

That was Sept. 16, 2008.

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Three days later, an emotional Marcum discussed the harsh reality ahead: a lost season due to the required recovery period following the Tommy John surgery he was about to have performed on his right elbow.

"Hopefullly, I'll come back better and stronger," Marcum said at the time.

It appears as though Marcum has succeeded.

On Monday, Marcum will take the mound for the Blue Jays at Rangers Ballpark for an Opening Day start against Texas. It will officially mark the end of an era in club history, but it will be so much more for the righty. The outing will be Marcum's first start in the Majors since that fateful, 52-pitch outing against Baltimore two seasons ago.

"It never even crossed my mind that I would be in this position," said Marcum, after earning the Opening Day starter role this spring. "My main focus was just to get healthy."

Beyond the hurdles that go along with a comeback from major surgery, there is a big reason why Marcum probably didn't spend much time thinking about a possible vacancy atop Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays had ace Roy Halladay, who toed the rubber on Opening Day for the club in each of the past seven seasons -- a franchise record.

As Marcum went through the daily grind of the rehabilitation process -- simply trying to work up to being able to play catch again -- Halladay was still the leader of the Jays' staff. That all changed over the winter, when Toronto pulled the trigger on a complicated series of trades that sent Halladay to the Phillies and brought three highly touted prospects to the Jays.

Suddenly, the No. 1 spot in the rotation was available.

Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 RF Jose Bautista
2 2B Aaron Hill
3 DH Adam Lind
4 CF Vernon Wells
5 1B Lyle Overbay
6 C John Buck
7 3B Edwin Encarnacion
8 SS Alex Gonzalez
9 LF Travis Snider
Projected rotation
1 RHP Shaun Marcum
2 LHP Brian Tallet LHP Ricky Romero
3 LHP Ricky Romero
4 RHP Brandon Morrow
5 LHP Dana Eveland
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Jason Frasor
SU RHP Kevin Gregg
SU LHP Scott Downs
MI RHP Shawn Camp
MI LHP Jesse Carlson
MI RHP Casey Janssen
MI LHP Dana Eveland
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
At the onset of Spring Training, left-hander Ricky Romero appeared to be the favorite to land the job vacated by Halladay's departure. Romero won 13 games as a rookie last season, and there were still too many question marks surrounding Marcum's situation when camp opened in February. As the weeks progressed, though, Marcum looked sharp, proving he was completely recovered.

With 64 career starts in the big leagues, Marcum has more experience than Romero and all the other pitchers who were in the mix for starting jobs. Before his injury, Marcum was considered one of the best young pitchers in the game. He relies on strong command and features a pair of baffling changeups that mimic his four-seam fastball and cutter, giving him four weapons besides his breaking pitches.

Before Halladay left Toronto, he told manager Cito Gaston that he would enjoy watching Marcum work. This spring, Gaston said he started to understand what Halladay meant.

"I saw just what Doc was telling me about," Gaston said.

Asked what it took to get back to where he is today, Marcum laughed and replied, "Good trainers."

Marcum then said it took a strong mind and a tireless work ethic.

"It was a lot of hard work," Marcum said, "a lot of long days where you're just going through the motions and other days when you get in there and you grind it out. It gets a little frustrating and wears on you mentally a little bit, but that's also a good thing. You've got to be mentally tough to go through a major surgery like that. It's not like it was a two-week rehab process and I was back.

"It was something I had to learn from, and I had to be mentally strong through it. A lot of guys can break down and just kind of get frustrated and give up on it. That's something that I didn't want to do."

So the 28-year-old Marcum is back and -- without Halladay around to guide the staff -- the young starter has taken a leadership role in the clubhouse this spring. That is something Gaston and pitching coach Bruce Walton have enjoyed seeing from Marcum. The new staff leader wants to emphasize communication among the pitchers this season and intends on keeping things loose around the team.

Marcum believes that will only help the staff as it works on forming its own identity in this post-Halladay era.

"For everybody, it's just put Doc in the past," Marcum said. "Even though we learned a lot from him and we wish him the best of luck where he's at, we have to turn the page for ourselves and this organization."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.