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Friday, February 15
Piniella says M's can be better, but not '117 better'

Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella predicted his squad would win the AL West again this season, but he warned that the Mariners aren't likely to match last year's 116 victories.

"I'd pick us," in the West, Piniella said on Friday, the first day of full spring training workouts for pitchers and catchers.

"I'd preface that by saying it's a very tough division. Anything can happen. It's a very improved division."

He said the Mariners, who have lost the last two American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees, have improved.

"If we can stay healthy in our pitching, we're a better team. I'm not talking about 117 better, but better."

The Mariners last season tied the Major League record for regular-season victories set in 1906 by the Chicago Cubs.

"Great season," Piniella said. "That's a lot of wins. It's almost impossible is what it is. I hope people don't expect that this year."

This year, the Mariners have free-agent starter James Baldwin in place of Aaron Sele, who had an 0-6 career postseason mark. They've added career .311 hitter Jeff Cirillo at third and veteran outfielder Ruben Sierra, who hit .291 for Texas last year.

Piniella said he'll likely give right-hander Freddy Garcia his second consecutive opening day start.

Garcia, 24, was third in American League Cy Young voting last year, when he went 18-6 with a league-leading 3.05 ERA. He got the opening night start and a no decision last year in an eventual 5-4 Seattle victory over Oakland.

The Mariners open at home against the Chicago White Sox on April 1.

Piniella said he probably won't go with a set rotation early in the season, preferring to look at how individual pitchers match up with opponents.

"It worked out quite well" last year he said. "Playing the White Sox, Freddy will be the No. 1 starter, and then we'll go from there -- I would assume that."

Piniella said 20-game winner Jamie Moyer, 17-game winner Paul Abbott and free-agent pickup James Baldwin will fill out the Mariners' top four spots, but the No. 5 job remains open.

Right-handed starter Aaron Sele, who went 15-5 last year, signed as a free agent with Anaheim in the off-season.

"We've got some decisions to make in the rotation, and we've got probably one job open in the bullpen assuming everybody stays healthy," Piniella said.

Right-handers Joel Pineiro and Ryan Franklin and left-hander John Halama will battle for the final starting job. The two who aren't chosen will be in the running for the bullpen slot along with lefty Matt Jarvis, Piniella said.

"The kid that has probably the best chance is Jarvis," he said.

Left-hander Norm Charlton, a Seattle mainstay in short relief last season, was released after injuring his throwing shoulder while working out in San Antonio, Texas, in early January.

Open spots are scarce among position players.

"When you look at the roster of the ballclub, we've got utility roles (to fill)," Piniella said. "It's a pretty set ballclub."

He said he hopes one of the roster players will emerge as a solid backup for first baseman John Olerud.

"I think we need to rest John more than we did."

Olerud appeared in 159 games during the regular season, batting .302 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI.

Notes: Piniella on the rollover accident early Friday morning that killed outfielder Mike Darr of the San Diego Padres, who also train in Peoria: "It's a terrible way for San Diego to start spring training. That's one of the messages I'm going to give our kids today, and we've done it every year. You've got to be careful. Darr was a good player. ... "I'm as much to blame as anybody else. I get in my car and don't put my darn seat belt on. I'm going to start doing it, making sure." Darr was not wearing a seat belt. One other person was killed and one injured in the interstate highway crash.

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