Matt Bush is battling for a spot on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster this Spring Training, but this challenge is far from the toughest thing the right-hander has faced in his life.
Though he was selected as an infielder with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft, he shifted to pitcher in 2007, while in the Padres' farm system. But then, Bush had a wave of off-the-field issues through his time in the Minors from 2009-12, including multiple alcohol-related arrests before he was sentenced to 51 months in prison following his involvement in a near-deadly crash with a motorcyclist.
Bush served 39 months of his sentence and was released on Oct. 30, 2015. He was signed by the Rangers on Dec. 18, 2015. Bush didn’t make his Major League debut until May 13, 2016, when he then became a vital part of the Rangers' bullpen. He pitched 61 2/3 innings with a 2.48 ERA in his debut season.
He's been bouncing between the Minors and the big league club since. Bush underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 19, 2018, and he only pitched in Double-A Frisco the following season before COVID-19 shut down the Minor League season in '20.
“I've had plenty of obstacles to overcome in my life,” Bush said. “I'm just really excited to be here. I feel like God put me in a place with this organization. And with all the help, and them treating me like family from day one. I've just been trying to follow through with the commitment the Rangers have given me.”
Bush views this season and this spring as another sort of comeback as he works his way back to the Rangers' bullpen at 35 years old. With Jonathan Hernández shut down with a UCL injury, Bush has a real shot to get innings out of the back end of the bullpen with the big league club.
Bush pitched in his first Cactus League game on Tuesday against Cleveland, tossing a scoreless inning with one strikeout. He said that moment was filled with emotions for him, so much so that it felt like his first strikeout in the Majors again.
“He said he actually felt like a pitcher [on Tuesday],” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He said in the past, he was just trying to throw the ball as hard as he could. Today, he actually felt like a pitcher. He was trying to use his cutter. It was really good to see. He was really excited coming out of it. To throw the ball well, throw strikes, stuff like good is a real positive force.”
Woodward emphasized how important it is to have a guy like Bush in camp as the Rangers focus on the organizational rebuild. Bush is a guy with experience both in and outside of baseball.
Bush shares those experiences with the younger pitchers on a daily basis, whether it be about the ups and downs of the game or his struggles in other facets of life. Bush likes being able to help the young guys in the bullpen.
“Obviously there's a lot of relatability there,” Woodward said. “It means a lot to guys when he shares those stories because of that leadership. This game and life has a way of making it difficult sometimes. For him to share those stories with his younger players, it means a lot.”
Bush also said he was tossing an easy 95 mph during his bullpen session on Tuesday. He’s persevered this long, through prison and injuries, and everything in between, because he believes he belongs in Major League Baseball.
“I've always had the talent, the drive, the desire,” Bush said. “I love this game. I have a never quit mentality and I feel like I have so much to offer. When you make people proud, especially family and friends, I really enjoy it. I really thrive off of it, and I love the game of baseball. I want to stay as long as I possibly can.”
Raining homers in Peoria
In a 17-5 win over the Mariners on Wednesday at Peoria Stadium, the Rangers combined for six home runs, including two by non-roster invitee outfielder Jason Martin. Texas had 18 total hits in the seven-inning victory.
The 17 runs scored tied the club record for most runs in a Cactus League game since 2003. The previous time was on March 4, 2005, against the Royals.
“It was good to see our guys break out,” Woodward said. “We took some really good swings. I know some of those may not have been home runs in certain ballparks, but they were driven in the gap. Some of those would have been doubles, or extra-base hits for sure."
Martin’s second home run cleared the lawn behind the right-field wall and Woodward called it a “blast.” Jose Trevino, Eli White, Adolis Garcia and John Hicks also hit homers.
Martin is batting .667 through nine games this spring. Woodward said he’s turned heads in camp with his swing and how he carries himself, so the skipper wanted to give Martin a chance to start out the game in left field.
“I want to see him in the outfield, in all three spots,” Woodward said. “But from a character standpoint, and intelligence standpoint, this kid's a really heady ballplayer, just soaking up everything that we can give them. The hitting coaches have raved about him.”
Woodward said Martin is an “easy call-up” at this point, if he doesn’t make the Rangers' Opening Day roster because of how well he’s performed in camp.