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Sidelined in 2021, Texas pitcher Andre Duplantier II is working his way back on the mound

Texas pitcher Andre Duplantier II throws to home plate during the Longhorns' 12-0 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last week at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi. Duplantier, a redshirt freshman, for now will work as one of UT's midweek starters.

Texas' Andre Duplantier II isn't the first Longhorn to wear the No. 88 jersey.

Casey Cain and Barryn Sorrell have both worn that number in the past year. Cedric Reed once earned all-conference honors while donning No. 88. But Cain, Sorrell and Reed are football players. Duplantier plays baseball.

Now, he knows what you're about to ask. It was certainly asked at Texas — a baseball program that had never before had a letterman wear a jersey number higher than 58 — after Duplantier asked to trade in the No. 17 he was originally assigned.

"Whenever I first started playing baseball, that was the number I went with," Duplantier, a redshirt freshman, recently recalled. "I remember (people) telling me, 'Why do you want 88? That's a football number.' They almost got me off of it. I was going to change my number and my dad was like, 'Nah, just wear 88, if that's what you pick.' Since then, 88's been the number."

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On Tuesday night, ol' No. 88 will start for No. 1 Texas at Sam Houston State. It will be the third appearance for him this season.

On Feb. 19 against Rice, Duplantier pitched an inning of relief. He struck out two batters and Texas coach David Pierce said he "thought he was outstanding."

Texas' Travis Sthele pitches against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in last week's 12-0 victory. Both he and Andre Duplantier II are coming off injuries that cost them their 2021 seasons.

In last Tuesday's 12-0 win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Duplantier started and pitched four innings of one-hit baseball. He registered three strikeouts, two walks and two plunked batters.

Duplantier is working his way back into UT's plans after an elbow injury sidelined him for the 2021 season. For now, Texas plans to use him more as a midweek starter than a weekend reliever.

"Before we start trying to get him to do both weekend, midweek, we need to let him log some innings, let him get some pitch counts up without getting him two different types of schedules," Pierce said. 

Duplantier is a 6-foot-2 right-hander from Humble. His younger brother, Jayden, is a member of UT's 2022 recruiting class.

While he was injured last season, Duplantier said he tried to "be the best teammate I could." He picked up a better understanding of pitching. He took to following Ty Madden around the ballpark, picking the eventual first-round draft pick's brain.

Pierce said Duplantier and Travis Sthele developed a "buddy system" during the rehab process. Sthele also missed last season because of elbow surgery. Now a redshirt freshman, he's given up three hits over the six shutout innings that he's pitched so far out of the bullpen.

"I think Travis and Dre are two perfect examples of how you handle rehab," Pierce said. "Rehab, you can alienate yourself from the team and feel like you're an outsider or you can do other things to help the team as you get your work in around that."

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When Duplantier made his Texas debut in 2020, his three saves led the team. He also was a candidate for playing time in the field. In fact, Duplantier started at third base and played four innings at first base in UT's last game before the season was canceled by the pandemic.

Two years later, Duplantier is only focused on pitching. While meeting with reporters last week, he said that two injuries made him reevaluate his future as a two-way player.

Ahead of the 2020 season, he suffered a hamate bone injury while hitting. Duplantier said he injured his elbow when he slipped while fielding grounders.

"I always felt like the game would tell me what I was going to do," he said.

Duplantier admitted to being nervous when he took the mound at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in the second game of this season. The first pitch that he threw to Rice's Benjamin Rosengard was a strike. After eventually retiring him on a called third strike, Duplantier struck out Owls designated hitter Drew Woodcox on four pitches.

Duplantier enters this week with a spotless ERA and a 0.60 WHIP. Since his appearance against A&M-Corpus Christi was labeled beforehand as a designated start, he was the pitcher of record in that victory.

"A lot of our guys have gone through injuries," UT starting pitcher Tristan Stevens said. "Dre was one of the big pieces that missed last year. Seeing him get back out there and doing what we all know he can do was really encouraging for us."

Texas at Sam Houston State

6:30 p.m., Huntsville, ESPN+, 104.9

Probable pitching matchup — Texas RHP Andre Duplantier II (1-0, 0.00) vs. Sam Houston State RHP Cole Wesneski (1-0, 2.57)