Upon seeing him dominate hitters throughout spring training, including in two Cactus League appearances, the Texas Rangers knew that Matt Bush would pitch for them this season.
The question became when would be the right time to bring him to the major leagues, and initially there wasn’t an easy answer in how to handle a talented right-hander who is a recovering alcoholic and was serving a prison sentence a year ago.
Ultimately, the answer became Friday, when the Rangers purchased Bush’s contract from Double A Frisco and optioned center fielder Delino DeShields, one of the club’s key players last season during the run to the American League West crown, to Triple A Round Rock.
Bush’s ability to handle the baseball, his day job, was never in doubt. He proved that over and over again for Frisco.
Two more weeks or two more months in the minors wasn’t going to change that, nor would additional time make him any more prepared to handle the MLB lifestyle and spotlight that would shine brightly on him.
“I’m trying to take every second in right now. It’s a little difficult,” Bush said. “I’m going to hopefully get out there and get my feet on the field for batting practice and just take one step at a time. Same thing in my life. Everything is one step at a time.”
General manager Jon Daniels said that Bush, 30, was meeting every requirement put upon him off the field, like attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, communicating frequently with coaches, being a good teammate, and not consuming alcohol or driving a motor vehicle.
Bush was arrested in Florida on four charges March 22, 2012, after fleeing the scene of an accident in which he was driving drunk when he struck a 72-year-old motorcyclist who caused life-threatening injuries.
He agreed to plea deal Dec. 18, 2012, and was released Oct. 31 after 34 months. He spent the final nine months on a work-release program, during which time started throwing with Rangers player development coach Roy Silver.
Bush and Silver had a prior relationship from Bush spending time at Sliver’s Winning Inning Baseball Academy, the same academy where Josh Hamilton worked to get back in the game in 2006.
Silver will travel on the road with Bush as an accountability partner, alternating trips with Bush’s father. But the Rangers are as confident as they can be that Bush is on solid ground and will handle all the new things that he’s facing in the upcoming days and weeks.
“The people around him feel like he is well-equipped to handle that, and we didn’t feel like additional time would make him any better equipped to handle that later on,” Daniels said.
“From our observations and more importantly the people who have been around him who have experience dealing with folks with alcoholism the issues that come with it, we feel like he’s doing very well.
“He’s been an outstanding teammate. He has followed all the conditions that we laid out for him. He’s been communicative with Roy, with the development staff and the manager. He’s followed all the protocols that we’ve put in place.”
Bush was 0-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 12 games at Double A Frisco, with 18 strikeouts, four walks and a .158 opponents batting average over 17 innings. Aside from the fastball and a plus-curveball, Bush has started to make his slider a more effective pitch.
He was surprised to see at spring training how hard he was throwing in his initial bullpen session, and he touched 100 mph during an appearance with the Rangers as an extra player from minor-league camp.
Bush, the first overall pick in the 2004 draft as a prep shortstop, wasn’t sure if he would ever play baseball again after completing his sentence and then was doubtful of reaching the majors signing a minor-league deal Dec. 18. His outlook turned around in spring training.
“Looking back, I was hoping to be able to throw 95 mph again,” Bush said. “When I first threw in spring training I was a little shocked. I would say, no, I’m not shocked now.”
Now, he’s a major-league baseball player for the first time after 3 1/2 years in prison. The baseball stuff comes easier than living life day by day as a recovering alcoholic, but his motivation to remain sober extends beyond pitching in the majors.
The Rangers believe he is in a good place in his life to make the jump from Double A, and so does Bush.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve put myself through a lot and I’ve realized a lot about myself,” Bush said. “I’ve continued to take it one day at a time, and that understanding and knowing of the mistakes and where they’re going to lead. I just don’t ever want to go through that again, for myself, or any organization or my family or my friends. It’s devastating.
“I’ve realized I can’t drink alcohol. I realized 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 and being sober. I feel like I’m living a dream, and I don’t ever want this to stop.”