The past six weeks have transformed Jessica Mendoza from someone largely regarded as a softball analyst to one of the lead baseball voices at ESPN. She has performed so well in place of Curt Schilling on Sunday night games and during the Houston Astros’ 3-0 victory over the Yankees in the American League wild-card playoff game Tuesday night that ESPN has no option but to give her a high-profile slot.
“Six weeks? No, it’s hasn’t been that long,” she said on Wednesday in a telephone interview. “It’s felt like one long day because I never wanted it to stop. I never wanted to let off the gas.”
On Tuesday night, she showed her primary expertise in batting analysis, most notably on how the Astros’ George Springer was able to hit a double over Brett Gardner’s head: by standing far back in the batter’s box to react to Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter. But she also did good — and quick — work on pitch selection and outfield positioning.
“I find that as far as my first step in, I talk to hitters, coaches and managers, and that’s the insight I want to share with viewers,” she said. “I’m hoping to build up to defensive strategy and pitching.”
What she will do in 2016 will probably depend, in part, on whether Schilling has a future at ESPN — on Sunday night games or anywhere. He was initially suspended by the network for sharing a Twitter meme about Muslim extremists that featured a photograph of Adolf Hitler. His short punishment was then extended because of an angry response he emailed to an article on the website Awful Announcing about his activities on social media. His first day back was Wednesday, when he worked from an ESPN studio at the company’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Mendoza said she traded texts about pitching with Schilling after Tuesday night’s game.
“He’s someone I’ve known a while and respect his knowledge, so we went back and forth about Tanaka” and Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, she said.
So far, Mendoza has not heard from ESPN officials about what she will do next season. “And I haven’t even asked,” she said. “I’m as curious as anyone. I’m hooked. This is something I want to do more of.”
And she will. John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and production, lauded her in a way that offered little doubt about the company’s intentions.
“You can expect that she has earned and will have a prominent role in our baseball coverage,” Wildhack said. “Her knowledge of the game is comparable to any baseball expert out there, and her knowledge of hitting might be the best of any analyst out there.”
He added, “She deserves all the credit for displaying her talents, and it’s awesome that she got to do it on a big stage last night at Yankee Stadium.”
Translation: Expect her to replace Schilling. It will be a smart and progressive move.
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