GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Shaun Marcum arrived at the Indians' spring complex in January to continue his comeback from a neck and shoulder issue that hindered him last season. After the introductions, Cleveland's medical staff immediately asked the pitcher to take his foot off the gas.
"They kind of slowed my throwing program down," Marcum said on Tuesday morning. "That was probably a good thing, because I was champing at the bit to get on the mound."
Marcum was finally cleared to step back on a mound on Monday, when the right-hander worked through a 25-pitch bullpen session consisting of only fastballs and changeups. The veteran signed a Minor League contract in December and is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he is well aware that the Indians have a vacancy at the back end of the rotation.
The Indians are giving Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Aaron Harang, Trevor Bauer and Marcum a chance at competing for that starting role. In Marcum's case, though, Indians manager Terry Francona has emphasized that Opening Day is not an etched-in-stone deadline for the pitcher's return to the big leagues
Marcum is returning from a July procedure to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome and Cleveland is taking a precautionary approach. The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Robert Thompson, involved removing Marcum's first rib, as well as two scalene muscles in his neck and some scar tissue.
"He's worked too hard," Francona said. "It never fails, you come to Spring Training, everybody's all geared up, the volume of throwing increases and then you have looming Opening Day. But I think that's an artificial deadline. We tried to beat that home with a lot of guys, that that is not the end all. Keep the big picture in mind."
Across the 2007-12 seasons with the Blue Jays and Brewers, Marcum went a combined 54-32 with a 3.67 ERA in 148 games, but he sat out all of 2009 after Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Marcum had bouts with elbow and biceps problems in 2012 with Milwaukee and he now believes the thoracic issue was behind those injuries.
Last year with the Mets, Marcum went 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 starts before shutting things down. He experienced stinging and burning in his neck, weakness in his throwing shoulder and his hand would go cold and numb in the middle of outings. Following his surgery, Marcum is hoping the array of issues are firmly in the rear-view mirror.
"This is a playoff-caliber team," Marcum said of the Indians. "It's definitely a team that can go deep in the postseason. I got stuff from the training staff and the front office about how they were able to bring players back from injuries. That played a big factor in [signing]. Seeing there was possibly a spot open in the rotation, that also was a factor. It was a lot of different things.
"It'd be nice to be on that team [for Opening Day], but we just have to take it slow."