Marcum sharp in first start
First, Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Corey Hart comes out of the chute swinging a hot stick despite missing nearly all of camp after knee surgery.
Now, right-hander Shaun Marcum shows you can miss a couple of weeks with shoulder inflammation and still be ready for your first start.
“Spring training is overrated,” Marcum said Monday night after pitching six solid innings in what evolved into a tense 7-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“As long as it is now, six weeks, and next year it’s going to be even longer with the World Baseball Classic, it can be a drag and tiring at times. Most everyone in the clubhouse, they get the certain amount of at-bats they need and the pitchers get the innings they need, and they’re ready to go.”
Marcum made only two starts with the Brewers in exhibition play but nevertheless was sharp, throwing 62 of 89 pitches for strikes and issuing no walks while striking out six. Two of the three runs charged to him came on bases-empty homers by Darwin Barney and Bryan LaHair, and the other was tainted when centerfielder Nyjer Morgan lost a towering fly in the twilight.
“I got 3-2 (in the count) on LaHair and I said, ‘Here it is. Hit it.’ And he hit it,” Marcum said of the long drive to right in the second inning. “But that was one of my things going in— try to limit the walks.
“I feel if you give up solo home runs you’ve got a better chance of winning games than giving up homers with men on base. It was just a matter of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. For the most part, we did that.”
With the wind howling out to right, Marcum and catcher Jonathan Lucroy came up with a strategy to attack hitters.
“I felt if we made lefties hit the ball the other way and righties pull it, we’d be OK,” said Marcum. “Everything felt good. We kept the pitches down for the most part. When we went up in the (strike) zone to try to get some ‘chase’ swings, we were able to miss up in the zone.”
With an opportunistic offense manufacturing runs with base hits, squeeze bunts and sacrifice flies, the Brewers appeared in good shape entering the bottom of the ninth with a 7-3 lead. But relievers Manny Parra and Tim Dillard both struggled and, before you knew it, closer John Axford was in the game with runners on the corners and one down.
Aramis Ramirez, who otherwise had a successful homecoming with two RBIs, booted Marlon Byrd’s grounder for an error as a run scored. Pinch-hitter Steve Clevenger singled in a run to make it
7-5 and the situation suddenly was dire.
Axford struck out David DeJesus but walked Barney to load the bases with two down. That brought up dangerous Starlin Castro, who was 0 for 4 but sitting on a streak of 43 consecutive games in which he had reached base.
Axford set up Castro with two curveballs, one of which he swung through, before freezing him with a 96-mph fastball right down the middle. Axford extended his club record to 44 consecutive saves, the longest active streak in the majors.
“Things seem to get very interesting when I’m out there, at times,” said Axford, who has been struggling with his command since his last few outings of spring training. “For the first save of the year, I guess it’s good to get all of the anxiety and jitters out of the way.”
“I felt good. I let a ball get away when I walked Barney. I was just a little ‘amped’ up, trying to get that last out. … Right now, just like last year, I just needed that first save under the belt and have things calm down.”
Asked if the game got a little too interesting at the end for his liking, Ron Roenicke quickly answered, “Yes, it did.” But the Brewers manager had lots of praise for his starting pitcher.
“I was really happy with the way Marcum threw the ball,” said Roenicke, whose team evened its record at 2-2. “The nice thing about him is his pitch count allows him to get deeper in games than most guys.
“I’m not surprised because this is what he did for us last year. He doesn’t walk people when he’s on. He uses his pitches real efficiently and gets some easy outs. He understands when to change speeds and understands how to make his ball move both ways on the plate. It makes it difficult for a team to string together a lot of hits.”