LSU's Duplantis is 'not really sure' where his 11 home runs came from this season
HOOVER, Ala. — LSU shortstop Josh Smith was kidding around, but often there is a little dig no matter how good-natured a joke appears to be.
After senior outfielder Antoine Duplantis of Lafayette hit two home runs in a game, including a grand slam, for the first time in his career in a 12-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the 2019 season opener — matching his season high in each of his previous three seasons — Smith took a swing at Duplantis, so to speak.
“I guess he got them out of the way for the season tonight,” Smith said. “Two home runs, wow! He probably won’t hit two home runs the rest of the season.”
Duplantis went on to hit nine more home runs in the Tigers’ regular season to finish second on the team with 11 behind Daniel Cabrera’s 12, nearly doubling his career output of six — two a year from 2016-18. Smith, meanwhile, has hit only seven so far this season.
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Duplantis hit his 11th on Thursday in a 7-1 win over Auburn that put the Tigers alone in fifth place in the Southeastern Conference over Ole Miss. The Tigers clinched that spot and the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament with a 5-1 over Auburn on Friday.
No. 17 LSU (34-22, 17-13 SEC) was scheduled to play No. 12 seed South Carolina (28-27, 8-22 SEC) at approximately 8 p.m. Tuesday night in Hoover, Alabama. LSU, which is No. 21 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings, has a very good shot at a home NCAA Regional if it can win a couple or three games in the SEC Tournament.
“It’s not like a set thing that if we win this many games, we’re going to host or not host a regional," Duplantis said. "We know that it’s still within reach, and we’ve just got to take care of business.”
A Duplantis home run on May 11 at No. 4 Arkansas may have saved LSU’s season as far as the No. 5 finish in the SEC and potential first home NCAA Regional since 2017. He hit a three-run blast in the eighth inning at wild and crazy Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville before 11,037 to end a five-game losing streak that knocked the Tigers out of hosting a Super Regional. The skid included a 12-1 loss to Louisiana Tech and 14-4 and 11-6 setbacks to the Razorbacks in the first two games of the series.
LSU went on to win three straight, including a 7-5 win over the University of New Orleans, before a 5-4 loss Saturday to Auburn in 11 innings in the regular season finale.
“This was unbelievably huge,” Duplantis said of that win at Arkansas, not necessarily his homer. “We’ve got to keep building off of this.”
Duplantis actually cussed on his way to first after the home run, which barely cleared the right field wall with some wind aid.
“Honestly, I capped it,” he said. “Then it ended up going over.”
Even when he does not feel he got a good swing, Duplantis is putting it out. Happens to power hitters. Blair Barbier did a similar thing in the 1997 season for the Tigers, thinking he had popped up. Just after he threw the bat in disgust, the ball cleared the left field wall at the old Alex Box Stadium. But that was ’97 when the bats were basically electric.
The Arkansas blast was the most perfectly timed home run of Duplantis’ career. Not only did it win a huge game for the Tigers. It came the day before Mother’s day with Duplantis mom — former LSU track and volleyball star Helena Duplantis — and his dad Greg Duplantis — the former All-American LSU pole vaulter — along with little sister and high school pole vault sensation Johanna Duplantis all in the stadium.
And there could be more home runs to come for Duplantis, who is as surprised now with his power surge as he was when he hit two against ULM on Feb. 15.
“I’m not really sure actually,” he said before the Auburn series when asked about the origins of his newfound home run swing. “Just getting older I guess. I have the same approach each at-bat. None of the home runs I ever really tried to hit them. I just caught the ball out front, and they went out. Haven’t really changed my swing. Every year, I tweak stuff, but nothing drastic.”
His average is still among the best on the team as it has been throughout his career. He is second at .318 to Smith’s .341. His RBIs are up to 58, which leads the team, after having 48 in 2018, 61, in 2017 and 39 in 2016. His doubles are down to six after 13 in 2018, 14 in 2017 and nine in 2016. They have become home runs.
He may just be swinging harder.
"I was telling my friends before, I'm just going to let it rip this weekend," Duplantis said after that season opener. "I'm not going to feel for anything. I'm just going to let it rip and see what happens. I stuck with it, and it paid off for me."
Dad has noticed something, though.
“In the fall, he was talking about trying to develop more power,” Greg Duplantis said. “His swing still looks the same to me, but maybe he has more confidence now to turn on inside pitches.”
Duplantis has also adjusted his post home run trot over the last few months. He kind of stutter stepped after the ULM homers.
“I'm not used to that,” he said at the time. “I'll probably hit a bunch of singles and doubles the rest of the year because I only hit two out every year."
That’s what Smith was thinking.