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Right-hander Shaun Marcum said he's learned to slow down his velocity even more after working with catcher John Buck, his former teammate with the Blue Jays. ((Gail Burton/Associated Press))

Shaun Marcum learned he couldn't get by with just throwing without thinking in the loaded American League East. The Milwaukee Brewers' newest starter relies on command, and he will get to see if his efforts work in the National League.

Marcum celebrated his 29th birthday in Milwaukee on Tuesday after the right-hander was acquired in a trade from Toronto last week for Canadian second base/outfield prospect Brett Lawrie.

"This is kind of a dream come true to come back to the Midwest and play in a division and with a team that I think is very close to being in the playoffs like they were in '08," Marcum said.

The Brewers expect him to bolster a starting staff that's struggled since their 2008 NL wild card run. Marcum will join a rotation that includes holdovers Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson.

Marcum, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., was introduced in Milwaukee after the Brewers gave up Lawrie for the five-year veteran who pitched last season after missing 2009 because of Tommy John surgery.

"We thought that trying to fill his slot, a 1-2-3 slot, was very difficult. You can see what free agent prices are, sometimes you've got to make deals," general manager Doug Melvin said. "I sort of anticipated we would have to make a trade to get some pitching."

Marcum, who likely will pitch after Gallardo and Wolf, said Toronto had a lot of offensive firepower in finishing 85-77 but didn't seem to be able to do enough of the little things right to be a factor in the playoff race.

He could've just as easily been talking about last year's Brewers, who went 77-85 and were woefully short again with a pitching staff that finished 26th in baseball with a 4.58 earned-run average after finishing 27th in '09.

Melvin said he's working to retool the starters, but it hasn't been easy because of a thin free agent market. Melvin said he continues to talk to Carl Pavano's agent to gauge interest, but hasn't made an offer and declined to discuss the details of other players who may be available by trade.

Surprise element

"We're still competing with other teams for people, I don't want to put out there whether you're in, you're out, whatever," said Melvin, who wouldn't rule out bringing up an arm from the minors to fill out the final spot in the rotation. "The good about some of this stuff is the element of surprise."

Milwaukee certainly made a surprising move just as baseball's winter meetings were getting under way by acquiring Marcum for Lawrie. Melvin said he had a few other intriguing offers of prospects for the slugging second baseman, but wanted someone who could contribute immediately.

Marcum will be relied on to do just that.

He went 12-6 with a 4.13 ERA in his first full season in the majors in 2007, then had a solid 2008 before needing Tommy John surgery at the end of the year. He missed 2009 and bounced back last year, going 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA. More important, he threw 195 1/3 innings over 31 starts, both career highs.

"I got to throw more innings than I ever have. I think I passed my innings by 30 or 40 and when it came September, I felt stronger in September than I did in April or around the all-star break," Marcum said.

Still, he's not the power pitcher that Milwaukee never seems to get. Marcum's fastball tops out at 88 mph and he features a change-up and breaking ball.

"I don't know if the hitters are buying it on the days I'm pitching or what it is," Marcum said of his success. "I've been blessed. I've been able to locate my pitches and mix all my pitches in for strikes. I think that's one thing I did as a young kid, learn how to throw strikes and throw my pitches where I wanted to."

Marcum averages a little over seven strikeouts over nine innings because he said he's learned to slow down his velocity even more after working with former catcher John Buck.

"He taught me to take speed off of all my pitches, if I'm throwing an 88, 87 mph fastball, throw it down to 84, 85. If I'm throwing my change-up 81, 82, take some off of it," Marcum said. "To be successful when you don't have a 95 mph fastball, you have to pitch inside."