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Inbox: Addressing the back end of the rotation

Mariners beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions in the Inbox

I've heard some players don't want to play in Seattle because of the amount of travel the Mariners do each season. How does adding Houston to the division and having Interleague Play throughout the season affect their travel distance?
-- Dakota H., Bonney Lake, Wash.

The Mariners will travel 52,509 miles in flight distance this season, which is about 7,000 miles more than they flew in 2010 and '12 (excluding their Japan trip), but slightly less than they flew in '11. So while the total is up, it's not unprecedented.

The Mariners will travel more than any other Major League team this year, but only slightly more than the Angels (51,825 miles) and A's (49,518). Typically, those three American League West teams rack up the most travel miles of all teams each season, and one of that trio winds up leading the pack.

The five AL West teams this year will average 46,384 miles each, compared to 33,003 for the AL East teams and 26,724 for AL Central teams. The White Sox will be the least-traveled team, at 22,635 miles.

The National League West clubs average 38,539 miles, NL East teams 29,640 and NL Central 25,350. The Giants are the most-traveled NL team, at 43,696, while the Reds are the lowest, at 22,171. The average among all 30 MLB teams is 33,273 miles this season, so the Mariners are about 19,000 miles above the average.

How much does that matter to the team's success in attracting players? The Angels and Giants haven't had any problems getting players over the years. If a team is winning and offering competitive contracts, players don't seem to worry too much about travel, and no team ultimately can concern itself with something it has no control over.

Should Justin Smoak stop being a switch-hitter?
-- Timmy L., Seattle

I've always said no in regard to that question, because Smoak is pretty equal in his career numbers from both sides of the plate, and the value of being a switch-hitter is one of the positives he offers. That said, if Smoak doesn't succeed soon, it's not going to matter, so I'm not quite as adamant about that stance as I used to be.

Over his career, Smoak has hit .222 with a .685 OPS from the left side and .228 with a .673 OPS from the right. This season, he's far more skewed, batting .275 from the left and .158 from the right. It's early and he's only had 38 at-bats right-handed, but if that trend continues, maybe it will come to a point where it makes sense for Smoak to zero in from the left side.

One thing to note with Smoak: He's seeing the ball much better this year, and his .357 on-base percentage is way up, thanks to 21 walks (with 30 strikeouts). Last year, he had 49 walks and 111 strikeouts for the year, with a .290 on-base percentage. So if his pitch recognition continues to improve, along with his recent uptick in batting average, it'll be interesting to see how his season plays out.

With all the talk of the "Big 4" pitching prospects, is Jeremy Bonderman a good prospect for the Mariners if the back half of the rotation continues to have problems?
-- Doug S., Rock Island, Wash.

Bonderman absolutely has a good chance of being seen in Seattle at some point this season, and perhaps not that far down the road if he maintains his upward trend with Triple-A Tacoma. The Mariners talked him into continuing his comeback in the Minors this spring with the idea that he could be part of their Major League plans if he built up his arm strength and proved healthy after not pitching in the big leagues since 2010.

Bonderman isn't a guy who is going to toil in Tacoma forever. He's made his money and established his Major League track record already -- he just wants another shot now. The Mariners will need to give him that as soon as it's clear he's ready. After a couple of rocky outings, Bonderman has now improved to 2-3 with a 3.70 ERA in eight starts.

With Aaron Harang struggling, Brandon Maurer failing to be consistent and Joe Saunders unable to pitch away from Safeco, might we see Erasmo Ramirez given a shot in the near future?
-- Marcus M., Marysville, Wash.

Ramirez certainly would have been a viable option already if he was healthy, but the 22-year-old just recently started to throw in extended spring camp in Arizona after dealing with a tender biceps since the final weeks of camp. Given he didn't pitch at all for about six weeks, it's unlikely he'll be ready for a while. But Ramirez is throwing simulated games now, and it sounds like he's getting close to at least beginning a Minor League rehab stint soon.

Whatever happened to Kevin Millwood? He keeps appearing on the Mariners' free-agent list. But didn't he retire?
-- Ryan H., Prosser, Wash.

Since Millwood last pitched for Seattle, he's listed among their free agents. Millwood said in February he was retiring after 16 seasons, and he wasn't in anybody's camp this spring. But a player isn't officially retired until he turns in his paperwork with MLB, so apparently he's either just yet to do that or he's leaving the door slightly ajar with the hope of still landing another gig at some point.

When I talked to Millwood about retirement at the end of last season, he was pretty clear that his main priority going forward was being around his young boys in North Carolina. I think it would be hard for him to keep pitching for any team, other than perhaps a club in that area.

How long does Hector Noesi stay up? He was a disappointment last year and hasn't been any better this year.
-- Leonard M., Vancouver, Wash.

I would disagree that he's not shown any improvement this year. Noesi gave up just one run in his first 7 1/3 innings over three outings out of the bullpen before getting hit pretty hard in Toronto last week. He's actually been pretty good in a relief role in limited use over the past two seasons, but he has struggled as a starter. Given the need for a long reliever and a potential spot starter, I would think Noesi will stick around as long as he keeps producing with some consistency.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners, Kevin Millwood, Justin Smoak