PHOENIX -- So far, so good for right-hander Shaun Marcum, who is playing catchup in a bid to begin the season in the Brewers' starting rotation. Marcum, slowed this spring by a stiff shoulder, needs no extra motivation. He works for a team trying to defend its National League Central title. He's trying to bounce back from a string of uncharacteristically poor starts to end last season, including a loss in the decisive Game 6 of the NL Championship Series. And, at age 30, he is entering a contract year. Marcum could be a free agent for the first time when the season ends. The Brewers have made no move to engage Marcum in discussions about an extension, and that appears unlikely to change in the waning days of Spring Training.
"We'll probably let him play the year out," general manager Doug Melvin said. That makes 2012 a crucial season, all the more reason Marcum was feeling good about his Cactus League debut on Sunday. He is essentially cramming a month of Spring Training games into two weeks, and he said again Sunday that he's confident this crash course will deliver him to the regular season without missing a turn.
Marcum counted Sunday's start against the Dodgers -- three innings, one hit, no runs, three strikeouts and at least three broken bats -- as another move in the right direction."We threw everything, too," Marcum said. "I'm kind of behind, so I had to throw everything. I can't really do my normal Spring Training routine, where I focus on fastball and changeup early, then work in things later. We threw everything, and I was pretty happy about it." Melvin and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke were happy, too, because a healthy Marcum would return all five starting pitchers to a rotation that ranked third in the National League last season with 98 quality starts. Marcum was 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA in his debut season with Milwaukee, acquired from Toronto in December 2010 for top Brewers prospect Brett Lawrie. He logged a career-best 200 2/3 innings in his second season back from Tommy John elbow surgery, and he was one of Milwaukee's best starting pitchers at the beginning of the season -- 6-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his first 10 starts -- and its shakiest in the end. Marcum was 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA over his final seven starts, including three in the postseason. He surrendered 49 hits in 34 innings over those seven outings, all but one of them losses for the Brewers. "He worked hard in the offseason," Melvin said. "He was on a program for conditioning. He's always been a motivated guy, and I think he may be more motivated because he doesn't want people to think he was the pitcher of the last three to four games of the season. He pitched the best when we needed him early on, when we weren't playing well." Said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: "He's got something to prove again, and I expect him to be that guy that we saw the first half of the season last year." Marcum's bounce-back bid began in Minor League camp last Wednesday, throwing two innings that he declared a success. Sunday marked his first opportunity to take the mound in a stadium full of fans. He delivered. "I've never been concerned about Shaun Marcum," Melvin said. Marcum expects to get up to the neighborhood of 60 pitches in his next start, then would have one more before the start of the Brewers' regular season. The Brewers have yet to decide, Melvin said, whether those outings will come in "A" games or in Minor League camp. The latter option would preserve the option of a backdated stint on the disabled list, which would allow the Brewers to carry an extra arm for the first four games of the regular season without costing Marcum a start, assuming he's slotted for the team's fifth game on April 10. Marcum is expecting to work April 9 or 10 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He said the idea of a DL stint had not been broached with him, and he confirmed he had not heard from the Brewers about his contract. Marcum will earn $7.725 million this season after settling with the Brewers to avoid an arbitration hearing. "We have not heard a word, and from what I heard, they were not interested," Marcum said. "I'll just go through the season, get through healthy and see what happens. I'd like to stay, but there's not a whole lot I can do about it. I don't write the checks and do what they do [in the front office]. They obviously have a reason for wanting to not do anything. That's their decision, not mine. "I haven't closed the door. I love it here, my wife loves it here, kids like it. So, no, I won't close the door. But if they close the door on their end, then it's closed. There's not a lot we can do about it."