Texas Rangers

Bush determined to start as Rangers pitchers, catchers report

For those wondering, and it should be about everyone who considers themselves fans of the Texas Rangers, right-hander Matt Bush no longer considers himself a reliever.

He spent all off-season working to be a starting pitcher, a role he has never filled as a professional player. Never.

However, the transformation in his mind is complete, even though he doesn't have a spot in the starting rotation and might be deemed too valuable to the bullpen by the time spring training ends.

But as pitchers and catchers officially reported Wednesday to the Surprise Recreation Campus, Bush was a starting pitcher.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that's what I'm doing, and that's what I've prepared for," Bush said. "And I'm not looking back."

The poster boy for Rangers relievers who have transitioned to the rotation is C.J. Wilson, and Bush has adopted a similar attitude to the one Wilson had at the start of spring camp in 2010.

Wilson was determined that he would win a rotation spot, that he wasn't going back to the bullpen. He was the Rangers' best pitcher that spring and never looked back.

A transitioning reliever just can't declare he wants to be a starter, though. The off-season regimen is entirely different, and it requires a level of commitment that not all who try to make the switch have.

Bush has it.

"I'm doing what I was told to train for — stay strong and stay durable," he said. "I've always been very confident in my ability. I was confident my very first year that I would have made the major leagues, or else I wouldn't have given it a try again.

"I love a challenge, I love competition, and I've always been able to rise to the occasion by just staying confident."

The skeptics point to Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers as prime examples of why Bush should stay in the bullpen.

Feliz, who started in the minors but was coming off two brilliant seasons as the Rangers' closer, made eight starts in 2011 before needing Tommy John surgery, and his career was never the same. He also never had the required work ethic.

Scheppers was the Rangers' best set-up man in 2013 but sought to move into the rotation in 2014. He did, though, some of it was out of necessity as the rotation was hit with injuries in spring training.

Scheppers was the Opening Day starter and made three more starts before his elbow started barking. That closed the book on his days in the rotation, but the injuries that followed weren't because he was a starter or shied away from hard work.

He has proven to be injury-prone since being a starter in college.

Alexi Ogando is another reliever-turned starter who flamed out in the rotation, though he was an All-Star as a starter in 2011.

Bush hasn't even been a pitcher his entire pro career after being drafted as a shortstop. He transitioned to pitching in relief before encountering legal issues for drunken driving and came out of prison nearly four years later ready to pitch again.

He has also dealt with a shoulder injury in his two seasons with the Rangers.

Pretty foreboding.

But Bush shrugged off concerns about his ability to handle a massive jump in innings. He had the bothersome AC joint in his shoulder cleaned up in October and is already approaching his 10th bullpen session of the off-season.

His cardio and weight programs are different, and trainers have had to caution him to stop working so hard in the gym.

Bush has topped out at 55 pitches — 30 more than a bullpen session as a reliever — but hasn't had any lingering issues. If the Rangers use a six-man rotation, or some form of it, he knows he will get extra time between starts.

And his mind is right. That might be more than half the battle.

"I have the first two years under my belt, I had the clean-out on my AC joint, and my arm feels free and easy," Bush said. "I feel better than I have the past two years. I'm really excited to see what that brings. My arm just feels a lot stronger, and I have nothing to hold me back."