Shaun Marcum's struggles continue
Right-hander blames bad luck, others point to location for issues down the stretch
MILWAUKEE -- If you're a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers, you want answers. You want something, anything to help explain how Shaun Marcum, one of your best starting pitchers through the first five months of the season, has suddenly turned into Jeff Suppan.
If you're being greedy, the explanation would be something Marcum could fix. And before Sunday's potential Game 6, if he wouldn't mind. But at this point, you'd probably settle for anything that would give you some answers.
Instead, after giving up five or more runs for the fifth time in his past six starts, Marcum stood in front of his locker Monday night and offered a simple take on why the going has suddenly gotten exceptionally tough: bad luck.
"I guess I pissed off the baseball gods or something," he said after allowing seven hits and five earned runs in four innings during a 12-3 loss in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, a defeat that now has the Brewers headed to St. Louis in an all-even series. "They hit three balls hard, and it's one of those things that has been going on for six weeks. Nothing you can do about it. That's baseball."
Technically, Marcum is right. Jon Jay had a bunt single in the first that Marcum nearly fielded. Edwin Jackson hit a line drive to center in the third that Nyjer Morgan just missed. Jay followed it with a grounder to the exact spot third baseman Jerry Hairston had vacated a second earlier. And Nick Punto's RBI single in the fourth was just out of the reach of shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was playing with the infield in.
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But what about the home run and double by Albert Pujols? What about the fourth-inning double by Yadier Molina? And what about the ball Lance Berkman scorched later that inning that Rickie Weeks stabbed at second to strand Pujols at second? Bad luck?
"If I was giving up 15 home runs a game and getting hit all over the park, [I would be worried]," Marcum said. "But when you make pitches and they get jam jobs and bloopers that fall in, there's nothing you can do about it if you're still making your pitches and locating."
Only that's the problem. Marcum isn't making his pitches. He isn't locating. Just ask his catcher. Minutes before Marcum offered the "bad luck, nothing to see here, please move on" explanation, Jonathan Lucroy offered a vastly different perspective. How does a pitcher who allowed five or more runs twice in his first 29 starts have an ERA of 8.18 in his past six? Location, location, location.
"You hang breaking balls, guys are going to make you pay for it," the Milwaukee catcher said. "He made mistakes. That's the key word. Mistakes. And you can't make them with that lineup and not get beat."
It's not just the breaking ball. Marcum threw 72 pitches Monday, 42 for strikes. Arguably his most important pitch, his changeup, crossed the plate just three times in 11 tosses.
"Sometimes he'll make a real good pitch and sometimes he'll make a mistake," Lucroy said. "It might be fatigue. It's just part of a long year, and hopefully he can get the ball back down. We all still have a lot of confidence in him. He's just scuffling a bit. Guys do that at different times in the year. For him, it's unfortunately happening right now."
But Marcum doesn't see it that way. He thought his control was fine against St. Louis in Game 2.
"I think it's been the same all year," he said. "I thought my command today was pretty good. Definitely better than it was in Arizona and definitely better than it was in my previous starts. I thought I threw the ball better."
Only the results were eerily similar: ugly. His struggles make Monday night's lopsided loss that much harder for Brewers fans to swallow. Although the bullpen didn't help the team out, allowing seven earned runs in five innings to make St. Louis' final score a double-digit stinker, Marcum's issues have become a point of colossal concern.
In his Game 3 loss to Arizona in the division series, he made the highlight reel, having flipped his glove in the air in disgust after allowing a grand slam to the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt. On Monday, he wasn't even out of the first inning when he was swearing at himself after throwing a ball inside to begin an at-bat against Matt Holliday.
Is he tired? Including Monday's start, Marcum, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, has thrown a career-high 209 innings. Is there an injury we don't know about? Is it bad luck? Is Marcum tipping his pitches? Or are NL hitters making adjustments after seeing the right-hander for a full season? Before Monday, Pujols was 1-for-12 in his career against Marcum with three walks. In Game 2, he made up for lost time.
"As a hitter, as a ballclub, that's our job to make an adjustment," Pujols said. "And I can't share with you guys the secret of what we go through in our meetings. That's our business. But we were able to execute. He left a couple of balls up, and we took advantage."
Whatever is wrong with Marcum, well, the postseason isn't the place to figure it out. That's why it wasn't a surprise after Monday's game when reporters asked Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke whether he would consider skipping Marcum in a possible Game 6 and possibly going with Chris Narveson. Narveson is 1-1 with a 1.20 ERA in three appearances against the Cardinals this season, two of them starts. Although Roenicke first said, "We'll see how it goes," he later clarified, "As far as I'm concerned, he's pitching again."
In which case, Marcum can only hope that Lady Luck is finally on his side. He insists he isn't hurt, his body feels great and the ball actually felt better coming out of his hand Monday than it did last week against Arizona. Now he just needs the results.
"There's times when you throw pitches down the middle and they hit it right at somebody, and there's times when you make great pitches and they find holes or they get enough of it to fall in," he said. "That's baseball."
Does Marcum see himself returning to the mound for a potential Game 6?
"Definitely," he said. "You don't want to end a season like [that]. You don't want bad starts this time of year. It's just one of those things. I'll try to be better and ready for Sunday."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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