Three weeks ago, sophomore pitcher Devin Fontenot entered in the eighth inning of a game against Missouri. LSU trailed by four runs.
Fontenot, whose ERA rested at 2.55, had established himself as LSU’s best option out of the bullpen. He had notched his third save earlier in the series.
Then Fontenot allowed a two-run home run. It proved inconsequential in a six-run loss, but the hit marked the beginning of Fontenot’s recent struggles, which peaked during LSU’s extra-innings loss on Sunday to Ole Miss.
Fontenot had flirted with disaster three of his previous five outings, but he had always escaped before losing the game. This time, after LSU tied the game with two outs in the ninth inning, Fontenot unraveled and took his first loss of the season.
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“I haven't had my competitive edge in a couple games,” Fontenot said. “I got to dig deep and try to find that again. I know I have it; I just haven't been showing it the last couple outings.”
The week after LSU left Missouri, Fontenot pitched a clean inning in a blowout win. During his next appearance, he almost blew a save against Lamar. Fontenot entered in the ninth inning with a 5-2 lead. He issued two walks and hit a batter with the bases loaded before ending the game.
In his next outing, Fontenot cruised to his fifth save. But when LSU tried to close its series against Alabama, Fontenot almost lost the game. He hit a batter with the bases loaded before striking out the final hitter.
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Fontenot escaped each time, and LSU used him when it led Ole Miss by five runs on Friday night. He walked the bases loaded with two outs. Once again, he avoided a loss.
Two days later, after LSU hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to force extra innings, Fontenot jogged in from the bullpen.
He walked the leadoff hitter. It was his 10th free pass in his past five games.
“My job is to come in and throw strikes, and if I'm going to walk the leadoff hitter it doesn't give us a chance to be successful,” Fontenot said. “That's a huge part of closing out games is being able to come in there and the other team feels like you got them beat and you got to go in there and put your cleat on their throat and go after them.”
Fontenot soon gave up a double and a two-run single as Ole Miss retook the lead.
Josh Smith sat for a long time in the LSU dugout.
“His command recently has not been great,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “The walk to lead off the inning is inexcusable. You got to have the poise to make an adjustment out there on the mound in the heat of the moment. He kept yanking balls into the other batter's box.”
Mainieri left Fontenot in the game. He gave up two more runs.
Fontenot, whose ERA ballooned to 4.22, blamed himself after the loss. He thought he had wasted the comeback from his teammates.
LSU, which dropped to fourth in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, has eight games left in the regular season. It plays Louisiana Tech on Tuesday before traveling to Arkansas. The Razorbacks are first in the SEC West, three games ahead of LSU.
Hampered by injuries, the Tigers have played inconsistent baseball this season. As they fight to host an NCAA regional, Fontenot is searching for that "competitive edge" to break out of his recent slump.
“He has to remember all the great things he's done for this team,” senior right fielder Antoine Duplantis said. “Just got to look within himself and figure out what he was doing when he was going well and try to continue to keep a positive mindset and go out there and have confidence in himself.”