For three innings, Diamondbacks right-hander Jon Duplantier was solid. He missed bats. He threw strikes. He kept the ball on the ground. For three innings, Duplantier got outs on Tuesday night.
Then came the fourth. Duplantier faced four batters. All four reached base. All four wound up scoring. Duplantier’s performance in a 5-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics fell along the same lines as his first two starts this season. He was undone by one inning.
Those nightmarish innings have spoiled Duplantier’s numbers. In 11 2/3 innings, he has given up 13 earned runs. He has walked eight. He has allowed four home runs.
Those bad innings have also raised questions about his future: Once a top prospect in the Diamondbacks farm system, he has been unable to find success at the major league level — in part, perhaps, because he has been unable to stay healthy for long stretches.
Duplantier entered the year as something of a forgotten prospect. So far, at least, he has not pitched well enough to again earn a spot in the club’s long-term plans.
“The thing that I think we’ve seen are these really good moments and it’s just a lack of consistency,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “It’s a challenge for a pitcher. We understand this a challenging level and there’s going to be some growth and development. I think he has that type of stuff where he can be a very good major league pitcher for a long, long time. It’s about finding that consistency and hitting that sweet spot.”
The loss was the Diamondbacks’ 18th in a row on the road, the longest such streak in the majors since the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates lost 19 straight. Overall, the Diamondbacks have lost six consecutive games, 20 of 22 and 29 of 34. At 20-42, they have a .323 win percentage, putting them on pace for 110 losses. The worst team in Diamondbacks’ history lost 111 games in 2004.
Duplantier retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced on Tuesday night, striking out four without allowing a hit. But things quickly went sideways in the fourth.
Jed Lowrie opened the inning with a soft, shift-beating single to the left side. Duplantier then jumped ahead 0-2 on Matt Olson before missing the zone badly on four consecutive pitches.
After a solid single by Mitch Moreland, Duplantier walked Sean Murphy to force in a run, by which point Lovullo had seen enough. The A’s would score five times in the inning, all they would need on a night when Chris Bassitt and a pair of relievers would hold the Diamondbacks to five hits, four of which were singles.
Asked what changed in the fourth, Duplantier believes it was his mentality. He thinks he somehow flipped into a mode of trying to do too much — trying to overthrow or place pitches — rather than just trying to execute. “I never really got back,” he said.
As for why, he wondered if time off might have played a part. Duplantier suffered an elbow injury sometime after spring training ended last year and spent the rest of the year rehabbing. He wondered if, because of the downtime, he now needs to find a way to re-acclimate himself to pitching in tight situations — spots in which, he said, he used to thrive.
“I think I’ve got to find that again,” Duplantier said. “By no means is that an excuse. I spent all last year hurt. The last time I pitched in a big league game or a game was 2019.
“I’m not asking for any leeway; I’m not asking for any bumpers. Nothing like that. I will, though, give myself some grace. It’s just one of those things I haven’t found myself in these situations in a minute. I’ve got to remember who I am down deep.”
Injuries have long been part of Duplantier’s story. Scouts wondered about his ability to stay healthy after he missed time in college at Rice and after seeing his long, unusual arm stroke.
The quality of his stuff has occasionally fluctuated during his pro career, something he said has followed a typical progression: up early in spring, down at the start of the season, then gradually ticking up as the season goes along. On Tuesday, the 46 fastballs he threw averaged a tick below 91 mph, which is 2 mph below the average major league starter.
Duplantier said he hopes and believes he has more velocity still in the tank. He also acknowledged it is already June, and that he has to make do with what he has.
“If this is what I’ve got,” he said, “this is what I’ve got.”
For stretches, Duplantier has had enough to succeed in the majors. But then have come the times when he hasn’t, and it is those times that have stood out thus far in his brief major-league career.
“We know what he’s capable of doing,” Lovullo said. “He’s been doing it for a very long time at a high level in player development. We just have to see it play out here on a consistent basis every time he gets the baseball.”