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Notes: Zaun working on his footwork

Notes: Zaun working on his footwork

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Gregg Zaun headed home to Cincinnati at the end of last season with a pile of videos and a goal in mind. Toronto's catcher wanted to get to the bottom of the mechanical issues he was having behind the plate.

During the final months of the season, the Blue Jays' pitchers were improving in their efforts to become quicker to home plate, but Zaun's footwork and throwing weren't in sync. So, at the request of Toronto first-base coach Ernie Whitt, who works with the club's catchers, Zaun used the winter months to figure out where he was going wrong.

Zaun even turned to his uncle, former big league catcher Rick Dempsey, sending a copy of the video footage to Dempsey in California. Zaun discovered some mechanical flaws that he addressed over the offseason. It's still too early to rely on results, but, for what it's worth, Zaun has thrown out the only two runners to attempt a stolen base against him this spring.

"Before I left at the end of last year," Zaun said on Monday, "Ernie told me, 'I really want you to work on your transfer to make that as clean as you can.' So I took home all the video from my throws and looked at it. I sent a copy to my Uncle Rick.

"I just wanted another set of eyes on it and between him and Ernie, they were able to kind of pick apart the mechanics of what was causing me to be inconsistent throwing the ball."

Any improvement in that area will be welcome news for the Blue Jays, who have gained a reputation for an inability to stop the running game over the past few seasons. Last season, Toronto allowed 134 steals, which was the third-highest total in baseball. The Jays' 15-percent caught-stealing percentage as a team rated as the second-worst mark in the Majors.

A broken right hand -- suffered last April -- was partly to blame for Zaun's defensive issues (he has a caught-stealing percentage of 15 in 2007). At times, Zaun struggled with hand weakness and the six-week layoff hindered the catcher's arm strength. It took him time to regain that strength, but by then he was dealing with the alignment issues.

"Toward the end of the year, the pitchers were unbelievable," Zaun said. "They were holding runners great and they were giving me a great chance to throw the ball, but my rhythm and my timing were so out of whack that I couldn't do anything with it."

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So far this spring, the 36-year-old Zaun, who is in the final year of a two-year contract, said that he's finally found a better rhythm behind the dish. That, combined with the fact that many of the Jays' younger pitchers have improved with runners on base, could help reverse the recent trend.

"I feel like everything is kind of working together," Zaun said. "When my feet are ready to go, my arm is there waiting ready to throw. Where before, the arm would be up and ready to go, but the feet weren't there yet."

Nailed: A.J. Burnett wasn't upset that Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg spilled the beans about the pitcher's unfortunate mishap with a car door. In fact, Burnett seemed as amused as he could be about his situation.

Burnett said he caught his right index finger in his car door in November, losing roughly three-fourths of his fingernail in the process. As a result, the right-hander isn't able to use his signature curveball -- a pitch he throws in part by digging that particular nail into the seams of the baseball.

"They can all fall out, as long as I have that one," quipped Burnett, who admitted he was a little worried about how long it might take for the nail to completely heal. "Right now, I'm not worried about it, because I didn't throw the hook for a while last year.

"But I'm just looking ahead, because if it doesn't grow out before the All-Star break, we're in trouble."

Burnett said he visited a nail salon as recently as Sunday, trying to see if there was a way to speed up the healing process. The nail isn't long enough yet to apply a false nail, and Burnett said he's taking Biotin -- a vitamin that helps strengthen nails and hair -- for the time being.

"There's no pain," Burnett said. "I'm taking a healthy nail and hair pill. Hopefully that'll make it grow. I've got my mom and my wife, everybody's throwing in their [thoughts] -- put the nail polish on for maximum growth. I'm trying everything."

Nice debut: Shaun Marcum dedicated more time to weight training over the winter, resulting in a more athletic frame that has the 26-year-old pitcher feeling better than he has in years. He's hoping the work he put in can help him avoid the late-season fatigue he experienced a year ago.

"I'm in the best shape I've been [in], probably since I was a wreslter in high scool," said Marcum, following his first start of Spring Training on Monday afternoon. "I think that's going to help me come August and September."

It certainly didn't hurt against the Indians, who were held off the scoreboard in Marcum's two innings of work. The right-hander mixed in his cutter, sinker, changeup and curveball in the outing, in which he struck out two and surrendered one harmless hit.

Marcum, who threw 25 pitches (16 for strikes), said the only pitch he hasn't worked into the equation yet -- not even in bullpen sessions -- is his slider. He also indicated that there haven't been any lingering issues from the season-ending surgery he had on his right knee in September.

Pleading for the fifth: Jays left-hander Gustavo Chacin, who is competing against right-handers Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch for the rotation's fifth spot, logged two innings against Minor League hitters at the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Monday. Gibbons said Chacin, who is returning from a left shoulder injury, looked fine during the outing.

Moving around: Last season, infielder Marco Scutaro showed his versatility by spending time at five different positions for the Oakland A's. On Monday, Scutaro -- acquired by the Jays in a trade with the A's in November -- started at shortstop for Toronto. Scutaro has manned short, third base, second base and right field in three Grapefruit League tilts.

Quotable: "I'm weighing the same as I did last year. I was hoping to get up to about 195-200 pounds, but that's not working. So I guess I'm going to have to stop working out and eating more." --Marcum, joking about his weight

Coming up: After a rough spring debut last week, Litsch will take the mound against the Yankees on Tuesday for his second start of Spring Training. Toronto hosts New York at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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