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Major League Baseball's 2016 Season Officially Opens On Sunday


Major League Baseball players are finishing up spring training. The official baseball season starts this weekend. So we thought we'd take a closer look at one position in particular - the guys on the mound. We called ESPN sportscaster Jessica Mendoza to ask her about the pitchers who will provide the most drama this season. She joins me now via Skype. Hey, Jessica, thanks for being with us.

JESSICA MENDOZA: Hey, Rachel, you bet.

MARTIN: Tell me about these people because it does take a particular person to want to be a pitcher. First of all, you've got to have the skill, but then you have to sustain all the pressure of being the person who is the focal point of the whole game - right?

MENDOZA: Absolutely. I mean, 80 percent of the broadcast is focused on the person who has the ball. And who has the balls? It's the pitcher.

MARTIN: Yeah. You are, as I imagine, looking forward to the baseball season. And you've got your eye on some pitchers. Who you looking at?

MENDOZA: Matt Harvey for the Mets. I feel like he is probably one of the most successful pitchers on this huge staff. But this is his first time getting the ball Opening Day. If you were to pick the one thing that you want to know from the World Series and what happened with the Mets, you're going to see Matt Harvey begged his coach, just saying, please let me stay in this game. They put him back in the game. He gives up a walk. He gives up a double. They end up losing the game. So this is a guy - right?

MARTIN: He needs redemption.

MENDOZA: Yes, and he gets the ball. I mean, could you write it anymore perfect - right? Like...

MARTIN: Oh, OK, we're going to look out for Matt Harvey. Anyone else?

MENDOZA: You know, I think Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. I mean, he's the best pitcher of the national league. Rachel, you're going to love this. I had a chance to do some Pilates sessions with him last week - OK?

MARTIN: Really?

MENDOZA: Yes. This guy, he really tries to think outside the box. What are ways that I can be more efficient? Just a better, like, athlete. I mean, we're doing this workout and he's like standing on his head, like hanging on these bars, holding himself upside down. Like, I mean, I'm laughing during this whole workout. But he's able to not only be strong but he's able to bend in ways that allow him to be a better pitcher. And therefore, like, his best pitch, which is his slider, he gets movement on this pitch and can manipulate it in ways that other guys can't do. And it's a huge part to what he does off the field to prepare his body.

MARTIN: OK. Can we talk about speed?

MENDOZA: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Because as far as I understand, this has been dominated. I mean, it's all about who can throw the fastest pitch - right? Like who still holds the title?

MENDOZA: Aroldis Chapman. This guy can hit a hundred miles per hour consistently. And do you remember the day when it was like, can someone throw a hundred like one time in their life? This guy just is constantly tagging that. And so much talk about controversy. You know he's on a 30-game suspension to start off the season because of domestic violence and a lot of eyeballs are going to be on him. I mean, he is now playing for the big dogs. He's with the Yankees. He's got this controversy to start off the season, his first season with the Yankees, and he's the hardest-throwing pitcher in all of baseball.

MARTIN: And obviously so important to the Yankees that they can look away from this domestic violence charge because he is just that good.

MENDOZA: They knew going in when they went to get him. They wanted him even though they knew what they were getting.

MARTIN: Jessica Mendoza, Major League Baseball analyst for ESPN. Opening Day for Major League Baseball is this Sunday, April 3. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.