Rangers promote Matt Bush, ending 12-year trek to majors

ByJean-Jacques Taylor via ESPN logo
Saturday, May 14, 2016
ESPN

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he sat in a prison cell, Matt Bush, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, wondered many times whether he'd ever get an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.

"People used to ask me all of the time," Bush said, "and I just didn't know."

Well, now he does.

Twelve years after he was drafted by his hometown San Diego Padres, Bush finally reached the majors Friday when the Texas Rangers promoted him from the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders.

"There was a knock last night, and me and my dad were confused about who was knocking on the door," Bush said.

"But when [Frisco pitching coach Brian Shouse] said who it was, I had a good feeling about what was going to happen. I didn't know it was going to be the majors, but it's extremely exciting. I just felt like jumping up and down, thinking how hard I've been working lately and following the course. It's unbelievable. It's hard to explain."

Wearing No. 51, Bush entered Friday night's game in the ninth inning with the Rangers trailing 5-0. He retired the middle of the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup in order on 17 pitches.

Ten of the 17 pitches he threw were 96 mph or faster, including eight clocked at 97. He struck out the first batter, reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, on a called third strike with a fastball at the knees.

"I was just focused on trying to be myself out there and continuing to do what I've done in Double-A," Bush said of facing the middle of Toronto's order.

"But it was pretty surreal, though, with those guys in the box. It felt good to throw a couple of pitches past those guys, it just boosts my confidence. To be able to have a good outing that first time, it's just amazing."

Bush said he tried to control his nervous energy by forcing himself to take his time and focus on each pitch.

"I think the crowd gave me chills out there when it got really loud, and everything just kind of hit me," Bush said. "Where I've come from, getting out here and just having the support of the fans and the Rangers behind me, it just felt amazing."

When Bush retired the side, his teammates greeted him warmly as he entered the dugout. Manager Jeff Banister stopped him at the top of the dugout steps, put his hand on Bush's shoulder and welcomed him to the big leagues.

"Nice to see Matt Bush become a big leaguer tonight," Banister said. "He was very composed. When he got in any trouble he went to his fastball. His stuff came out good and clean and high. He showed his slider, and he showed his breaking ball.

"I'm very proud of what Matt Bush did tonight."

Bush said the reception meant a lot to him.

"Everyone's giving me high-fives, and Banister looking me straight in the eye and telling me I did a great job and he was proud of me," Bush said. "It's an amazing feeling."

To make room for Bush on the roster, the Rangers optioned Delino DeShields, their Opening Day center fielder, to Triple-A Round Rock. DeShields is batting .217 in 30 games this season.

The Rangers had a 40-man roster spot after trading reliever Anthony Ranaudo to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Bush, 30, joined the Rangers after serving more than three years of a 51-month sentence for driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury in a 2012 crash in Florida. He signed a minor league deal with Texas in December, about six weeks after he was released from prison.

Bush was 0-2 with a 2.65 ERA and five saves for Frisco. He had 18 strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings.

He primarily uses an overpowering fastball that consistently hovers around 97 mph. He complements it with a curveball and a slider.

Banister said before the game that Bush will not have a defined role.

"When I first threw in spring training, I was a little shocked how hard I was already throwing and how great my arm felt," Bush said. "If I kept up the work I was doing in the spring, I felt like I could be the kind of guy who could help this team win."

For Bush, the game has always come somewhat easy. Away from the game, he struggled with alcoholism. In December, Bush said he has been sober since the March 2012 collision after years of alcohol issues.

One reason the Rangers felt comfortable promoting Bush now is that he has done well with the conditions they put in place upon signing him. He regularly attends an Alcoholics Anonymous program, adheres to a curfew and doesn't operate motor vehicles.

While Bush is with the Rangers, his father, Danny, or team employee Roy Silver will be Bush's accountability partner at the ballpark and on the road.

"I don't think any of us are really in position to truly know what he's been through -- I mean, what he's experienced in prison and everything since then," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.

"That was a consequence for his actions, but from our observations and the people around him who have experience dealing with folks with alcoholism and some of the issues that come with it, [we] feel like he has done very well."

Silver is a player development assistant for the team who has helped others come back from troubled pasts. He had an impact on Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, a former No. 1 overall pick who was out of baseball for more than three years, from 2003 through 2005, because of cocaine and alcohol addictions.

Bush was drafted No. 1 as a shortstop in 2004, just ahead of Justin Verlander. Bush had several alcohol-related incidents and the Padres traded him five years later to Toronto. After being released by the Blue Jays, he signed a minor league deal as a pitcher with Tampa Bay.

He went to prison after a no-contest plea in Charlotte County, Florida, for a DUI with serious bodily injury. Authorities said Bush's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he hit a 72-year-old man on a motorcycle and left the scene. There was no probation for Bush, whose sentence ended with a nine-month work-release program.

Before this spring, he last played in the minors in 2011. The Rangers took a look at Bush on Silver's recommendation.

"The off-the-field stuff is a battle on its own," Bush said. "I've been through a lot. I've put myself through a lot. I've realized a lot about myself, and I continue to understand and know the mistakes and where they lead. I don't ever want to have to go through that again for myself, any organization, my family and my friends. It's devastating.

"I'm not the same person when I drink. I tend to make horrible choices. I don't want to be that person ever again. I like myself today being sober. I feel like I'm living a dream and I don't ever want this to stop."

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