Perhaps as much as anyone else on a veteran-laden team, LSU outfielder Antoine Duplantis has had to adjust to changing circumstances through the Tigers’ first 21 games.
Duplantis moved from right field to center field in the offseason to replace Jake Fraley, which was considered a natural transition for the speedy sophomore.
But what was more of a challenge for Duplantis — at least before the season started — was rediscovering what helped him lead the team in batting average for the majority of his freshman year.
Despite finishing second in the Southeastern Conference in hits in 2016, Duplantis’ production tailed some in the second half of the season. He also stumbled at times during the summer and fall, coach Paul Mainieri said.
Those plate struggles carried over to the first weekend of the season against Air Force and Army, when he was hitless in his first 12 at-bats. Since then, he's hitting .434 (33-76) and has hit safely in every game except the Maryland and Georgia series finales.
He has two or more hits in 10 games, and his hitting streak of 12 games, which was snapped in Sunday’s win against the Bulldogs, was the longest by an LSU player this season.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it was frustrating in the beginning,” Duplantis said after last week’s series finale against Wichita State. “But it was either be frustrated for the rest of the year or just say, ‘It’s over with, I’m going to take it day-by-day, still be aggressive and stick with my approach because I know it works.’ "
Though Duplantis had hits in nine of his previous 10 games before the Wichita State series, Mainieri wanted to make a few changes entering the three-game set against the Shockers. The 11th-year coach moved Kramer Robertson to the leadoff spot, while Cole Freeman and Duplantis slid down to the Nos. 2 and 3 spots.
Mainieri also inserted Duplantis in left field for the series against the Shockers, using a combination of Brennan Breaux and Zach Watson in center field.
Duplantis has handled the defensive switch and sliding back in the order has certainly benefited him. The Lafayette native has gone 17-for-36 (.472) since moving to No. 3 spot in the order, driving in 20 runs over eight games.
Batting .375 for the season, he is now tied with Greg Deichmann for the team lead in RBIs (28), which ranks 10th nationally and second in the Southeastern Conference.
Duplantis turned in his most productive stretch of his career through five games last week, which earned him National Player of the Week recognition by Collegiate Baseball. He went for 10-for-23, including two doubles and a home run, with 14 RBIs and seven runs scored.
In Friday’s 22-9 win against Georgia, Duplantis, who was also named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, set the program’s single-game record for hits in a game (6). Half of his RBIs for the week came in that game alone.
Even after the first two games of the Georgia series, Duplantis acknowledged he hadn't had a weekend quite like it.
“That’s just how baseball is,” Duplantis said. “I don’t know if last year I went 0-for-12 in a weekend either, so that’s just the way it is sometimes. I’m not doing much of anything different. I’m just going up there with the same approaches and trying not to let anything else get to my head.”
Tigers in top five of two polls
Despite a midweek loss to UNO for the second time this season, LSU rejoined the top five of two major college baseball rankings after opening SEC play with a sweep of Georgia.
The Tigers (16-5, 3-0 SEC) rose to No. 4 and No. 5 in the Baseball America and D1 Baseball polls.
The Tigers, however, fell one spot to No. 8 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper ranking after its 4-1 week. In the Perfect Game poll, LSU remained at No. 6.
The Tigers were one of six SEC teams to sweep a league foe this weekend, causing some significant movement in the rankings. Florida, which was swept by Auburn, fell in all four polls but is still ranked as high as No. 11 by D1 Baseball.
After hosting Southeastern Louisiana at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, LSU will travel to Gainesville this weekend for a series against the Gators (13-8).
After a 2-2 week, Louisiana-Lafayette fell one spot from their previous poll positions in the Baseball America (15), Perfect Game (10) and D1 Baseball (16) rankings.