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Marcum makes strides in return

Marcum makes strides in return

TORONTO -- Any concerns about the high volume of pitches Shaun Marcum needed in the early innings of his start against the Rays on Saturday were quickly erased by the end of his outing. By the finish, the general consensus around the Blue Jays was that the pitcher appeared to be himself again.

"He looked like the guy of old," Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said.

That was a welcome development for the Blue Jays, and it provided a bit of a relief for Marcum, who was making his first appearance after a disheartening demotion to Triple-A Syracuse. Toronto sent a struggling Marcum to the Minor Leagues to work some on his command, but mostly to give him some time to rediscover his usual form.

In his return to the rotation on Saturday, Marcum didn't disappoint. The 26-year-old right-hander logged seven shutout outings against Tampa Bay's pesky lineup, which struck out seven times and collected just four hits -- all singles -- against Marcum. During the first three innings, though, Marcum flirted with disaster.

"For the first couple innings, it was almost like it was about a week ago," Marcum said. "I just had to settle down and settle into a groove."

Marcum needed 52 pitches to work through the first three frames, during which his fastball command eluded him. Instead of relying heavily on his heater, Marcum used his changeup more often, but he walked three and allowed two hits over that span.

By the fourth inning, Marcum's fastball became sharper and he was able to mix up his pitch selection for the remainder of his outing. Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said the early issues actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It made Marcum more unpredictable for Rays hitters as the game wore on.

"His fastball command came to him later in the game," Zaun said. "So we were able to kind of switch up our pattern later in his outing, and that was good. It was timely when his fastball came to him, because we were relying predominantly on offspeed stuff.

"But Shaun looked like Shaun today."

For Marcum, it was an outing reminiscent of his showing in the season's first half -- before a right elbow injury sidelined him for a month between June and July.

"It just sort of fell into place," Marcum said. "I think it got better as the game went on. From the fourth through the seventh, I felt like I did earlier on in the year."

Prior to the injury, Marcum went 5-4 with a 2.65 ERA over 15 starts. He limited the opposition to a .198 average and had 86 strikeouts and 27 walks over 98 2/3 innings. After returning from a stint on the disabled list, Marcum went 3-2 with a 6.19 ERA in seven starts. In that period, he struck out 23, walked 16 and had a .295 opponents' batting average.

In light of his struggles, Marcum was sent to Syracuse on Aug. 23 to make a pair of starts -- a move that caught the starter completely off guard. It might have been a decision that helped get Marcum back on the right track, though.

"I don't think when we sent him down that it was really a command issue," Arnsberg said. "It was more to get his feet back on the ground and, obviously, throwing the ball over the plate a little bit more often.

"With Shaun, it was, 'Just do what you've done for the last couple years, kid. Get back into that mode,' and he did. It's always nice to see that in that first outing coming back, getting their feet back underneath them."

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

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