Tempe, Ariz. — Even after five years in the American League West, the label of an expansion team still sticks like glue to the Seattle Mariners, whose primary need in 1982 is pitching.
Last year Seattle got only 10 complete games from its staff; suffered from a team 4.23 earned-run average; and had trouble holding any kind of a lead in the late innings.
What the Mariners hope for this year is improvement from veteran pitchers Floyd Bannister and Jim Beattie, plus maturity for rookies Bob Stoddard and Rich Bordi.
Rounding out Manager Rene Lachemann's (pronounced Latch-man) five-man rotation will be free agent Gaylord Perry, who was 8-9 last year at Atlanta. Perry, who is old enough to play Ronald Reagan playing Grover Cleveland Alexander in the movie of the same name, is only three wins away from 300 big league victories.
Right-hander Glenn Abbott, who has twice won 12 games and would normally be a regular starter, is a question mark because of elbow problems. He won't be missed that much, however, if Stoddard and Bordi come through as expected. And the Mariners have several other young pitchers they think may someday have a big-league future.
The late-inning men out of the bullpen will be left-hander Shane Rawley and right-hander Larry Anderson, with Dick Drago the main man for long relief.
Lachemann, who replaced Maury Wills as manager on May 6 last year and engineered considerable improvement with his leadership, will only be trying to build a wider foundation for Seattle in 1982, not win a pennant.
''Realistically, when you're looking toward the future, your goals are different than if you feel you're only one or two players away from winning a pennant,'' Rene explained. ''My personal goal is to get the maximum out of the talent that's here and last year, in my opinion, I did that.''
Because he likes rookie Jim Maler's power bat and because Maler can't play anywhere else, Lachemann has moved Bruce Bochte to left field and will play Jim at first base. This is a questionable move since Bochte has little speed along with a suspect throwing arm.
Second base belongs to Julio Cruz, who has great range in the field and who stole 43 bases last season. Third base is currently the property of rookie Manny Castillo, who hit .335 enroute to being named the most valuable player in the American Association last season. If Castillo shouldn't make it, Lachemann probably would go back to Lenny Randall, who played there often last season.
Shortstop could again be a trouble spot whether the position is played by 1981 incumbent Jim Anderson, rookie Paul Serna or Todd Cruz, obtained in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. Cruz has already been with four big league teams -- Philadelphia, Kansas City, California and Chicago, none of whom kept him for more than a season. However Lachemann says he is tremendously impressed with Cruz and that Todd will be his shortstop on opening day.
With Bochte in left and Joe Simpson in center, the Mariners have settled on two-thirds of their outfield, but right field could be a problem unless Dave Henderson or rookie Al Chambers suddenly blossom, especially at the plate.
Richie Zisk, who can't play the field every day because of injuries, remains one of the best designated hitters in baseball, a man capable of both average and power.
Jim Essian, over from the White Sox, is the No. 1 catcher, with Bud Bulling and Jerry Narron the backups.
The Mariners at this point can't even dream of a .500 season. And if his veterans aren't doing the job, it may be that Lachemann will turn quickly to his rookies - sacrificing a few extra victories for the lessons of experience that must be learned if the Mariners are ever to have a future.