'I'm still ready to go': Motivated Bush eyes return to Rangers' bullpen

February 23rd, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers kicked off their Minor League minicamp this week, a group highlighted with numerous top prospects throughout the system. But one notable and familiar name is among those vying for a spot, many of them in their late teens and early 20s: veteran Matt Bush.

Bush, 36, is the oldest player at minicamp, where he's once again trying to make the club’s Opening Day roster. Bush, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Padres in the 2004 Draft, said he sees this as an opportunity to mentor some of the club's young pitchers. 

“It's part of the process,” Bush said at the start of minicamp. “I think sports, for the guys that have been around, it's part of giving back as far as allowing someone else to learn from you. I had to learn from the older guys myself, and if I'm not giving back I feel like I'm cheating. It's not just all about me, it's a team thing, baseball, there's just so much to it.”

This is the first time Bush has been in Minor League camp since 2016, when he first made his return to baseball. After signing with the Rangers in December 2015, he was called up a month into the '16 season as a bullpen arm. 

He proved his worth, posting a 2.48 ERA over 61 2/3 innings of relief for a Rangers team that had the best record in the American League. He was solid the following year, with a 3.78 ERA, but injuries -- including two UCL surgeries -- and the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign derailed his next few seasons in a Texas uniform.

He then signed a two-year Minor League deal with the club for 2021-22 and made the Opening Day roster last season. But the injury bug hit him again, a right flexor tendon issue sidelining him after just three appearances.  

He did earn a callup on the last day of the 2021 season after rehabbing his way back, tossing a perfect inning with a strikeout in his return, making it clear afterward that he hadn't yet reached his end of the road.

Bush now enters his third consecutive season as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, hoping to once again earn a spot on the 2022 Opening Day roster.

“It’s always full steam ahead for me,” Bush said. “I haven't pitched a whole lot, and as long as the Rangers keep bringing me back and as long as my elbow can keep bringing me out on the field, I’m just gonna keep playing. I'm still ready to go.”

If all goes well, he has a big opportunity to make the Opening Day roster in a similar role he would have had last season: as a setup man with the possibility of high-leverage innings.

Bush threw a bullpen on Monday at the start of Minors camp and said he feels “outstanding” after an offseason full of rehab work. The right-hander was outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock shortly after the conclusion of the 2021 season, but remained in DFW to continue preparing.

“Everything feels great as long as the elbow is at bay and I learn how much I can handle workload-wise and whatnot,” Bush said. “But it's just taking it one day at a time to get out here. I have to throw off a mound, pitch in a game and just see how we feel the next day and go from there. I can't sit here and say, ‘Yeah, it's gonna be the year and everything's gonna work out perfectly and be amazing.’ We just gotta take it easy.”

So what does a healthy Matt Bush provide to the Texas Rangers?

“Just an arm in the bullpen,” Bush said. “Someone that can be a good leader with this team that we have here. Someone to help win games.”

Soon, he'll have his chance to earn that spot and provide that benefit out of the bullpen.