The Devin Fontenot who steps on the mound this weekend against Hawaii is not the Devin Fontenot who started the season.
This Fontenot is calm and relaxed. He’s confident in his pitching ability and secure in his position as an up-and-coming reliever.
The old Fontenot was rattled by the two-RBI double he allowed to Notre Dame in his first college appearance Feb. 17, a 10-5 loss. From then on, he wasn’t throwing many strikes, and the strikes he was throwing weren’t well-placed.
Over the past three weeks, the freshman right-hander got a crash course in how to handle the stress of pitching under the lights at Alex Box Stadium, where success is earned and the most effective pitchers forget failure quickly.
It was a tough lesson so early in his career, but one he’d rather receive now.
“It’s good to go through adversity,” Fontenot said. “If you just have success all the time, you’ll never know what failure really is. This game is a humbling sport and it’ll get the best of you sometimes. It’s good to have some bad games and be able to learn from it.”
The days immediately following Fontenot’s bumpy college debut were filled with self-doubt and more than a little shock.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said the two runs Notre Dame scored on Fontenot weren’t entirely his fault. Part of it was the result of an umpire's questionable call, one that kept the inning alive and Fontenot on the mound.
In Mainieri’s assessment, Fontenot pitched a good game.
But that didn’t help Fontenot.
His ERA skyrocketed to 9.53 by the end of the Texas series a week later. Only four outings into his young career, Fontenot had allowed six runs on nine hits in just 5⅔ innings.
Knowing Fontenot needed a change, LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn pulled the freshman into his office for some blunt talk.
Fontenot had pitched so well during the fall, hitting his spots and staying ahead in counts, but the Tigers were seeing none of that now.
“There was some inconsistency with the counts he was getting in that were more conducive for hitters getting good at-bats,” Dunn said. “A lot of times when you look at that you say, ‘Are you trying to be too fine as a pitcher? Are you trying to make those perfect pitches? What’s going on?’
“We wanted to get back to the basics. We talked about the location of his pitches and what counts is he pitching in and those things.”
It was as if the concept of accepting and forgetting mistakes never occurred to Fontenot. Once he knew he didn’t need to be perfect on every pitch, Fontenot was free to get back to the type of pitching that made him into a promising reliever in the first place.
The change was immediate.
In three outings since his meeting with Dunn, Fontenot has not allowed a run. Other than one hit, he has put down every batter in order.
His improvement reached a high at Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday, when Fontenot retired five of the six batters he faced. The most encouraging number to Dunn: Of the 31 pitches he threw, 24 were strikes.
Dunn and Mainieri both said the recent output is what they expected from Fontenot when he arrived in the fall.
“At the beginning of the season I just went out there and went through the motions,” Fontenot said. “I guess I didn’t prepare well enough and execute the things A.D. talks about all the time.
“But then (Wednesday) I kind of just thought to go out there and be myself and do what I’ve been doing my whole life.”