Bush, who had a relatively smooth rookie season in the majors in 2016, had never dealt with such relief failure.
Since allowing three runs in his last appearance as the closer on June 30, however, he has rediscovered what was effective for him. He has thrown five scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out six. He threw a perfect eighth against the top of the Royals’ order in Friday’s win.
“Banister did what he needed to do, take a step back with me,” Bush said. “It’s allowed me to focus and think about some ways to improve.”
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That includes focusing more on his pitch location, making sure his fastball stays elevated and his off-speed pitches stay lower in the zone.
“Last year, everything went smooth, I didn’t have any experience, I just went out there and gave it my all and wasn’t thinking about much,” he said. “It’s just a learning experience for me. Being places and doing things that I’ve never encountered before and trying to bounce back. There was just a little bit of a tough road there for me, but realizing it’s all part of the game, that everyone has been through it, everyone has done it. I just haven’t had that experience so it was a little difficult for me to bounce back.”
Learning how to put a rough outing in the rearview mirror is something he hadn’t much considered. Until last month.
“No one is ever going to be perfect. Every closer is going to blow games eventually, every pitcher is going to struggle eventually but it’s all about bouncing back and having something to lean on like having a good routine and things to continue to improve on,” he said. “I feel like I didn’t have that with [regard to] my pitching. It all went well, my talent was there, my stuff was there and when the struggle hit I didn’t know which way to turn really.”
Bush is back to using a more compact delivery, Banister said, and using a less drastic leg kick. He’s also locating better, keeping his fastball up and his off-speed down.
The difference between pitching the seventh or eighth inning and pitching the ninth is stark, Bush said, because of the emphasis on the closer’s role.
“It’s the mental side that’s the difference. There’s nothing physical about it. Mentally, if you’re not strong enough, or you’re not prepared, the eighth and ninth can be a big jump,” he said. “The media puts a difference on the ninth inning, everyone puts a difference on the ninth inning. If I struggled in the seventh and eighth, everyone is not going to overreact because I’m not the closer. If you’re the closer, the struggle is obvious. The game is over.”
Banister doesn’t consider the move a demotion despite the outside world perceiving it as such. He pointed out that he used Bush against the top of the Royals’ order in the eighth.
“There are times when that seventh and eighth inning are as crucial as we saw earlier in the year,” Banister said.
Bush saw highlights showing Aroldis Chapman blow a save for Yankees Friday night, which was a reminder of his new-found perspective.
“He struggles and the game is over. He looks like crap, it looks terrible,” he said. “When you’re put in that role as the closer and you struggle it seems like you let everyone down and that was the thing that was hard. Everyone plays their butts off to get to that point and you give up the game and it feels like it’s all on you.”
Banister wouldn’t rule out Bush returning to the closer’s role but for now, at least, he’ll keep using him where’s he’s been most successful.
“Mentally, there are times when you don’t have the success you desire it can take its toll,” Banister said. “I do believe getting him out of that spot and back to a spot where he’s had a ton of success coming out of last year. He knows what that feels like, he’s confident in that spot.”