When the Seattle Mariners break camp, it's expected that their top strength will be their pitching staff, and an improved starting rotation expected to at least keep the team in most games.
Consider Brandon Morrow (pictured), the 24-year-old right-hander who spent most of his first two seasons in the bullpen. This spring, Morrow's first problem was pitching out of the wndup – he'd been working from a stretch most of his pro career. Now, Morrow has come up with a tender right forearm, and the Mariners are talking about how they can keep his innings down in 2009, skipping the occasional start.
And then there's the Ryan Rowland-Smith vs. Jarrod Washburn problem. Rowland-Smith is 26 and proved himself a viable starter last season in 12 starts. Washburn is 34, in the last year of his contract and would have been – were it not for an ill-advised front office veto – have been traded last August.
If both men pitch about the same his spring, Washburn likely wins the spot in the rotation and Rowland-Smith either moves to the bullpen or to Tacoma. Why? If Washburn is to be traded during the season, it would have to be as a starter, not a reliever, and the Mariners want to move him.
If Morrow's health is an issue, he could drop to the No. 5 starter, and Silva might move up to the No. 3 spot, giving the Mariners a right-left-right-left-right rotation.
Felix is, once again, expected to have the break out year that the team has anticipated each of the last two seasons. Certainly, he's capable of it. Bedard is in his free agent season, healthy again and motivated. Ironically, he could be the pitcher this season that Bill Bavasi traded for last year.
Silva is in the best shape he's been in for years, and the hope is that brings a return to the success he had in Minnesota, where he won 14 games in his best year. He almost has to be better than last year, but is probably no more than a .500 pitcher.
The bottom line: The Mariners rotation is a better than average group, but no much more than that – especially if Washburn and Silva are the No. 3 and No. 4 starters.