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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 15, 2008 11:15 AM

Huge news out of Angels camp

Posted by Geoff Baker

Never mind the fact that Brandon Morrow has been shut down a few days to rest a tired arm (he'll play catch tomorrow and take it from there). Some major developments are happening on the AL West pitching front and coming out of Angels camp. Angels ace John Lackey is now going to be out until the month of May. Yes, that means the Angels won't have their two top starters, Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, for at least the first month of the season.

I keep hearing that Escobar might be out until June. He isn't even throwing in his team's camp right now. Working out on his own. For all of the hand-wringing about the M's offense -- and the concerns are legitimate -- Seattle now has a definitive advantage on the starting pitching front. Not so much in the bullpen, and to be honest, I'm starting to get a little nervous about the M's relief situation.

That said, my bullpen concerns are more short term than long term. Short term, a few of the arms the M's had hoped to rely on (folks like Mark Lowe, Arthur Rhodes, Chris Reitsma and even Jon Huber) are coming off injuries. Not that any of those were critical to Seattle's chances, but if Morrow's arm fatigue turns out to be anything more serious, the bullpen will be looking a little thin.

For all the talk about whether Seattle will go with six or seven relievers, I'm not surprised the team appears to be leaning towards six. I'm having a hard time coming up with a list of seven relief names who could be ready to go 100 percent in the bullpen at the start of the year.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not panicking about Morrow. J.J. Putz was a much bigger concern a year ago when his sore elbow had prevented him from logging any Cactus League innings. What a non-issue that turned out to be. Yes, this team needs Morrow to be effective in the eighth. It needs Eric O'Flaherty to step in and fill George Sherrill's shoes. Needs Sean Green back to where he was in June and July of last season. R.A. Dickey should log some innings and take pressure off the rest of the bullpen -- in theory.

But there are still questions this relief corps will need to answer.

All that said, I'd much rather be in Seattle's shoes right now, with Morrow taking a few days off, than be an Angels squad that just lost the equivalent (or better) of Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez. The M's have somewhat of a soft schedule in April, not to mention a series against those Angels in which they should have a decisive pitching edge.

Given all that, I'd expect the M's to be in first place by the end of April -- and by a good few games to-boot. I'm serious. If not, it could be that much tougher for this club to contend once the healthy arms return to Angels fold.

This is precisely why a team should not give up on a division race in January. Even if it is viewed as a second place bet. When the gap is single digits, a team has shown it can win more than it loses and the team in front hasn't done much to better itself, expecting a break or two is not unrealistic.

The M's went out and took a chance by acquiring Bedard.

They are now in a serious position to jump all over this latest bit of Angles misfortune.

Too bad they cut Horacio Ramirez. I know an AL West team that could use him right now (OK, OK, that's stretching this post a little too far).

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