Marcum working on sinker
New pitch has mixed results in loss to Indians on Thursday
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Shaun Marcum wasn't going to stop using the pitch just because it was being smacked all around Chain of Lakes Park by the Indians. The Blue Jays starter is working on his sinker and that's all there is to it.
It was a classic case of Spring Training, when the final result that is printed in the box score doesn't give a true indication of what a pitcher was attempting to accomplish. Marcum endured a rough day on the mound, but that's because he insisted on sticking with his game plan.
That included the third inning on Thursday, when Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner sent one of Marcum's misplaced sinkers bouncing off the top of the wall in right-center field for a two-run home run. During the regular season, Marcum's signature changeup would probably be reserved for that 1-2 count.
"I'm trying to work on it and get it ready for the season," Marcum explained. "If it's not there, then we'll shut it down and go from there. If it's not working, it's probably not a pitch I'm going to throw Hafner during the season. I might go with what I get people out with, which is probably my changeup in that spot."
Marcum, who was scheduled to pitch four innings, saw his pitch count rise rapidly as he toyed with that two-seam sinking fastball. The 26-year-old finished with 65 pitches, including 47 strikes, and allowed five runs (three earned) on 10 hits with one strikeout and no walks in 3 2/3 innings.
Throughout his career, Marcum has typically been a fly-ball pitcher, giving him a desire to add a pitch that can induce more ground balls. The sinker that Marcum has been working on since this past offseason begins on a path toward the hips of a left-handed batter before breaking back over the plate.
It's a similar pitch to the sinker used by Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, who is well-known for the high volume of groundouts he induces. Against the Indians, Marcum was more successful with the pitch against right-handers, but he struggled against lefties like Hafner and catcher Victor Martinez, both of whom recorded hits off the sinker.
"It's working for Doc," said Marcum, referring to Halladay. "That's a pitch he uses to keep the ball on the ground. Obviously, it's not staying on the ground for me. I just need to keep working on it and try to get better with it.
Marcum's plan impressed Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun.
"I'm really thrilled with the approach," Zaun said. "That takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to do that, because he's a good pitcher. We know he can throw his changeup any time he wants to for a strike to get people out."
Marcum, who went 11-4 with a 3.91 ERA as a starter last year for Toronto, arrived in camp this spring with a job waiting for him in the Blue Jays' rotation. That knowledge has afforded him the ability to use his spring starts to work on specific goals, rather than worrying about fighting for a spot on the roster.
If Marcum didn't have a job lined up, he admits he might have used his changeup more often against Cleveland, especially during the confrontation with Hafner. The pitcher also added that he'd focus on honing his sinker for one more start. If it's still not working effectively at that point, Marcum said he will have to decide whether or not to continue using the pitch.
"He deserves an opportunity to come down here and work through some things," Zaun said. "As long as he's ready to go by Opening Day and he feels comfortable with what he's doing, that's all we care about.
"He can always go back to doing what he was doing before and we know that he'll be successful doing that. So I applaud him for sticking with it and trying to work on some stuff."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.