Impressive in '16, Bush likely to stay in 'pen

Righty notched 2.48 ERA as reliever in rookie season, hopes to 'stay healthy and stay strong'

January 2nd, 2017

ARLINGTON -- Cooler heads are prevailing in the case of Rangers pitcher Matt Bush.

Texas is planning on keeping him in the bullpen even though there had been some chatter this offseason about moving him to the rotation. Staying in the bullpen appears to be Bush's preference after his successful rookie season as a setup reliever.

"I thought about [starting] a little bit, just the idea of it," Bush said. "Looking back on my season, I'm very grateful and very thankful to be able to stay healthy and strong and continue to progress into the role I was in. I'm looking forward to being able to do the same [in 2017].

"I've never started professionally. I feel great with where I'm at as a reliever right now. I feel like it's the best place for me right now. I still have some building to do with my arm. My career is very young. I just want to continue to do what I did last year."

Bush, after a four-year absence from baseball, appeared in 58 games in 2016 and went 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. In 61 2/3 innings, he averaged 8.9 strikeouts, two walks and 6.4 hits per nine innings.

"I feel really good about the season last year," Bush said. "I was able to stay healthy, stay strong and contribute to a winning team. This offseason, I'm just looking to repeat what I did last year -- stay healthy and stay strong."

The Rangers discussed the idea of Bush switching because of their abundance of relievers and need for more rotation options. Their bullpen includes closer Sam Dyson, right-handers Tony Barnette, and and left-handers Jake Diekman and , among others.

Texas' rotation includes Cole Hamels, , and , with A.J. Griffin and as the leading candidates for the fifth starter.

The idea of Bush joining that group has been pushed aside, general manager Jon Daniels told 1310 KTCK last week.

"Matt Bush is coming into camp as a reliever," Daniels said. "I expect him to be a very good reliever for us."

Bush is the hardest thrower on the Rangers' staff with a fastball that averaged 97.1 miles per hour last year, according to STATS Inc. He also has the curve and slider to go with it, giving him the three-pitch mix required for starters.

"[He has] a lot of things you would look for in a starting pitcher. ... That's why we had the conversation," Daniels said. "The flip side is the unknowns. He hasn't pitched a whole lot given his background as a converted shortstop and missing time. There's so much unknown. He hasn't been trained as a starter. He hasn't built up innings."

The Rangers and the rest of baseball found out what top relievers get on the open market this offseason. will receive $17.2 million per season over five years from the Yankees, will receive $16 million per season over five years from the Dodgers and signed for $15.5 million per season over four years with the Giants.

"The other piece is while other [Rangers] were good relievers in a seventh- or eighth-inning capacity, Bush has the potential to be the best of the whole bunch," Daniels said. "He was dominant once he got his legs under him last year. The opportunity cost of taking a reliever out of the bullpen, that's part of the thought process. His role might be more important now than if he became a decent, not great starter."

Texas has seen the value of having a strong bullpen in postseason with the success that teams such as the Indians and the Royals have had over the past few years. It has also been reluctant to spend big in the bullpen.

"The guys in the bullpen, those are dynamic innings, also," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "They can create wins, they can create losses. They are important. You need them. You need those guys that are going to be able to shut down those innings and close games out for you, and [Bush] possesses that quality."

The Rangers have had mixed success trying to turn relievers into starters over the past seven years. They were successful with and , but not with and . made a successful transition from the bullpen to the rotation in 2011, but then he was inexplicably moved back to the bullpen the following year.

A 50-50 proposition is probably not the best way to go with Bush, who had to miss four seasons while serving 3 1/2 years in Florida prison after pleading no contest to one count of DUI with great bodily injury.

"What we have to evaluate, A, what's best for Matt Bush and what's best for the Texas Rangers?" Banister said. "What I know is that he's going to come to Spring Training, and he's going to pitch for us. I think what you do is evaluate and make the best decision you possibly can of equally what's best for both the player and the organization."

Right now, that appears to be cooler heads prevailing and Bush staying in the bullpen.