Shaun Marcum, Mets' newest starting pitcher, was once a college shortstop

Pitcher Shaun Marcum delivers a pitch during a Pitcher Shaun Marcum delivers a pitch during a spring training workout at Tradition Field. (Feb. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Shaun Marcum began his baseball life as a shortstop. As a side gig, he also closed games for his college team. Looking back, he admits he did little more than pump fastballs from the mound.

"In college, you don't really have game plans, especially as a closer," Marcum, the Mets' newest starting pitcher, said Tuesday. "You just come in and throw. And I threw harder, a lot harder, back then."

The Blue Jays, under the guidance of former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, saw the makings of a big-league pitcher. Ricciardi drafted Marcum in the third round of the 2003 draft. And now, with the Mets, the two have been reunited once again.

Often, position players are converted to pitchers because they're hard throwers. Marcum's arm has never been particularly electric.

Nevertheless, he has crafted a career by relying on his feel for pitching.

Marcum's fastball sits in the high 80s, but he supplements it with strong command of his secondary pitches. The mix often keeps hitters off balance, especially when combined with superb command. The ability to adapt is what the Blue Jays spotted back when Marcum was still a shortstop at Missouri State.

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"Yeah, he's a pitcher," said Ricciardi, the Mets' special assistant to the general manager. "He's got a great baseball IQ. He has a very good understanding of who he is. He has a very good understanding of what he is."

After the trade of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, the Mets are banking on the 31-year-old Marcum to stay healthy enough to fill the void in the starting rotation.

The veteran righthander is 57-36 with a 3.76 ERA in his career, but he has only topped 200 innings in a season once. Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2009 season and elbow issues limited him to 124 innings in 2012. But the Mets, looking for a steady veteran, decided that Marcum was worth the gamble.

"He's smart enough to know that he doesn't throw 92, 93," said Ricciardi, who believes the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field will help. "But he knows how to set up hitters and he's just got a pretty good idea of who he is and what he is on the mound. When you understand that as a player, it helps you get results faster than trying to be something that you're not."

Marcum figured that his experience as a hitter might help him on the other side. Still, at the beginning of his transition to the mound, he never thought that he'd make his living as a pitcher reliant on guile.

"I never envisioned it to be the way it is right now," Marcum said.

He credits his catchers through the years for helping him make the most of his repertoire. He's also come across some helpful tutors along the way, including former Blue Jays teammate and Cy Young winner Roy Halladay.

"Obviously, you're going to have your lumps and bumps where you give up long home runs and you don't want to laugh about that," Marcum said. "But, to play mind games with hitters, it's a lot of fun to do that."

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