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12/05/07 6:29 PM ET

McLaren says Mariners need pitching

Team also hopes for bounce-back season from Sexson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some of the numbers Mariners manager John McLaren mentioned during his 30-minute session with the media on Wednesday morning at the Winter Meetings opened eyes and raised some eyebrows.

Such as:

How many bases could Ichiro steal next season?

"Let's just say 80 to start with," he said.

How important is it for Richie Sexson to bounce back?

"I look for Richie to hit 40 home runs," he said.

And about that six-game gap between the first-place Angels and second-place Mariners in the American League West. How do overtake the Angels?

"I think getting a little better starting pitching would be a good start," he said. "We like our team on the field. And we need to beat the Angels."

The Mariners are a long way from determining their 25-man, Opening Day roster, but McLaren believes that come Spring Training, he'll have the players capable of challenging the Angels for the American League West title and compete in the talent-laden AL.

That talent level got even better on Tuesday when the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins in a blockbuster six-player swap.

"It seems like the American League is getting a little stronger," McLaren said. "I thought it was a good trade for Detroit, and I'm glad Cabrera didn't go to the Angels. That's one thing I'm glad about."

McLaren kind of made a deal on Wednesday. He was supposed to leave for Venezuela in the morning, but with potential trades being discussed "and other things going on", McLaren remained in Nashville and, among other things, participated in the prearranged media session.

It seemed only fitting, perhaps, that Angels manager Mike Scioscia had his session immediately ahead of McLaren. The two skippers, friends off the field but soon to be fierce competitors again on the field, exchanged cordial greetings before McLaren took his seat at the table.

"They played so well in Interleague [Play], and they played well against us," he said, referring to the Angels' 14-4 record against NL teams and 13-6 record against the Mariners. "You have to beat the teams in your division, and the Angels are the top team right now. You've got to beat them."

While McLaren talked, Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi and his entourage were in a suite at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center attempting to improve the team in general and the starting pitching in particular.

Winter Meetings

"We have a lot going on, and we're just waiting for the phone to ring," McLaren said. "We have a lot of meetings left here and have had some interest in some of our players. We're just trying to get the right fit because there's only a certain amount of pieces that we have to deal, and we have to make sure it's the right deal."

As of Wednesday morning, the Mariners were among the leading contenders to sign right-handed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, whom McLaren met during a recent "recruiting" trip to Japan.

"I don't think we're in the driver's seat, but I like our chances," Mac said. "I don't care who is the frontrunner, as long as we get him. That's the bottom line."

McLaren said there is a lot to like, and he realized that during the face-to-face meeting in Japan.

"I was very impressed speaking with him," he said. "One thing that really impressed me about him was he put a list of questions in front of us and they were about his family more than him.

"It shows what kind of person he is. We know he's a bulldog, he's a control guy, fierce competitor, and we like his ability. We've had him well-scouted, but this shows the other side of him. He cares about his family, and he's got great character."

Asked where Kuroda would fit into a rotation that currently includes Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, McLaren said, "At least a three. He's so attractive because he's an innings guy. He asked me could he pitch late in the game. I said, 'You can pitch as late as you want. Hand the ball off to J.J. [Putz] and we'll be a happy crew around here."

McLaren, who went from Mariners bench coach one night to manager the next, said he feels right at home in his new job.

"It's been great," McLaren said. "More than I envisioned. I like being this involved. This is what I've always wanted. This is why I've gone to Colombia and Venezuela [to manage]. I like pulling my end of the bargain, and I've always been a worker. I'll always be a worker."

Work toward building another championship team in Seattle continues and putting a cohesive team on the field night after night this summer is job one for McLaren. He said he wants a team that runs more than it did a year ago and pitchers that pitch deeper into games.

Adding two quality arms to the rotation could make a huge difference.

"I think it would upgrade us quite a bit," he said. "If we get a couple guys that can eat some innings up, it makes our bullpen stronger because we don't have to use them as much. We think Kuroda would bring that to the table, for sure. Some of these other people we're talking about, we think they're like that, too."

Aside from better starting pitching, the Mariners definitely need the 40-home run, 100-RBIs kind of season from Sexson. And McLaren knows it.

"I want him to feel good about himself," the manager said. "I think we showed confidence in Richie as he went through some tough times. He went through things he's never been through. It's hard to take when your home crowd boos you. It's a tough experience. But it's over with, and I'm going to sit down with Richie and get a game plan for Spring Training and let him have a great year.

"We need him because losing we're some offense with [Jose] Guillen. If Richie comes back being Richie, it takes a lot of pressure off Adam [Jones], and it helps us out a lot. Richie has something you can't teach -- power and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It would be good seeing him doing that again."

If that happens, perhaps next year McLaren could have his media session ahead of Scioscia's.

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