'Thankful' Bush on 'pen spot: 'It's only a start'

Kennedy also makes club; both to work high-leverage innings

March 28th, 2021

 was confident he would make the Rangers' big league club coming out of camp. And he had reason to be, as manager Chris Woodward informed the non-roster invitee on Sunday that he has made the Opening Day roster.

“It just kind of hit me really quickly,” Bush said. “I was just like ‘Wow, my wife is gonna be so happy and my family's gonna be so happy.' Everyone that's been along with me on this journey. It's just not myself. I'm just so thankful, and it's only a start, you know, this is Spring Training and we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Bush said he never let himself wonder if he wouldn’t make the team, trying instead to stay positive through the entirety of camp, even after a rough outing. He took time to be more mentally and physically ready coming into Spring Training.

Bush was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Padres in the 2004 MLB Draft as an infielder before transitioning to pitching in '07. But then, he 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. After making his comeback, he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn UCL in his right elbow in '18 and went to Frisco on a rehab assignment. The "repair and reinforcement" procedure didn't work, and Bush had to undergo Tommy John surgery in ‘19 before signing another rehab contract with the Rangers. He entered Spring Training in '20 intending to make a comeback before the COVID-19 shutdown.

He’s impressed this spring, racking up seven strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings, while allowing three runs. He and  -- another non-roster pitcher who made the big league club -- will be used in high-leverage situations according to Woodward, filling roles left by José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández, who are both recovering from injuries.

Bush said he’s ready to close games if that’s what the team needs. He was an important part of the Rangers' bullpen in 2016, when they won the American League West and he posted a 2.48 ERA over 61 2/3 innings.

“I can remember from my past experience on closing, and some things that I did really well and some things that I needed to improve with,” Bush said. “Just taking the past and molding it and learning the mental part of it, and understanding situations and mentality and the mental side.”

Bush said he’s learned a lot of himself since his first comeback with the Rangers five years ago and he’s learned even more about pitching. He’s worked specifically on his delivery and how to attack hitters with his fastball.

He never really paid attention to the analytics before this spring, when he began using them to improve across the board.

“I was always looking forward to seeing what [the analytics] were like and what maybe I can improve on,” Bush said. “My fastball is a very great pitch -- it's very high spin -- but my slider and curveball also are very good, as well. Guys are going to look to ambush me all the time coming in late in the game and get on top of the fastball. I have that understanding, and just relaying it with the catchers and making sure that we're mixing everything in and up, down and out.”

Woodward said that both Bush and Kennedy will be back-end-of-the-bullpen guys, more likely to come in the game in save situations. Kennedy, who the Rangers signed on a Minor League deal in February, has one season of closing experience, recording 30 saves for the 2019 Royals.

A converted starter, Kennedy is a 14-year MLB vet with a 4.13 career ERA. He’s versatile enough to be used in multiple ways, but with Leclerc and Hernández out, Kennedy is more likely to be used in the eighth or ninth innings. Woodward said the club signed Kennedy with closing in mind, and that’s the position he wants to be in.

“We had every idea of him pitching leverage innings at the back end,” Woodward said. “Obviously, with Jonathan and Leclerc going down, our two options are older guys that fit in nicely with that role. [Bush and Kennedy] both pitch really well. I think they've earned it.”