Matt Bush hasn’t pitched since the last time the Texas Rangers faced the Los Angeles Dodgers, on the road in mid-June, and the right-hander isn’t going to pitch again until next spring.
He claims to be healthy now. A strain in his flexor max has cleared, and on Tuesday he threw at 75 feet for the second time since beginning a throwing program. Ninety and 120 feet are head of him, and then throwing off flat ground and bullpen sessions.
Bush, though, has resigned himself to not pitching again this season. Having already undergone Tommy John surgery once in his career, he understands the need for caution.
He also has a couple theories as to what led to his season-ending injury, but neither of them is what one familiar with the Rangers might think.
No, Bush said, the Rangers have not broken another reliever by giving him a chance to start.
“I definitely threw a lot more in the off-season,” Bush said. “I trained more and threw more in my bullpens. I think the main part was just fighting myself on the mechanical side. It definitely wasn’t like me.
“I was just constantly throwing and throwing and throwing, trying to find it and feel right. This is something that I didn’t have to deal with before, and I was throwing more and more.”
Compounding that, Bush theorized, was that he was coming off shoulder surgery in the off-season. Perhaps subconsciously he altered his mechanics to protect his shoulder, and all the throwing with a mechanical flaw led to the elbow issues.
In fairness to the Rangers, Bush prepared in the off-season to start but wasn’t stretched past three innings during spring training before they ended the experiment. But his issues would seem to eliminate another chance at starting in future seasons.
“I think we’ve just got to get him healthy and see what we’ve got,” manager Jeff Banister said.
The Rangers successfully transitioned C.J. Wilson from a relief role to the rotation in 2010, and he was a central part of their two World Series runs. But the list of failed attempts is much longer.
Chief among them is Neftali Feliz, the All-Star closer who moved to the rotation in 2012. He lasted eight starts before hitting the disabled list early in the season, and he re-injured the elbow while on rehab assignment.
Tommy John surgery followed, and Feliz was never the same. Health issues also bit Alexi Ogando, though he was an All-Star starter in 2012, and Tanner Scheppers after their shots at the rotation. Throw in Robby Ross, and the Rangers had three more relievers who were never as effective once back in the bullpen.
Bush believes a platelet-rich plasma injection and stem-cell therapy, along with lots of rest, have fixed him.
“I’m confident that it feels good,” Bush said. “I had some tightness, some discomfort in spring training and didn’t really think much of it. I was able to manage it well. I definitely noticed there was something going on. That last outing I had in Los Angeles, right after the game it got a little tight and painful.”
In his absence, the Rangers have traded closer Keone Kela and found a pretty good replacement in Jose Leclerc. Bush was a spring candidate to close games after failing in his first shot at the role last season.
The shoulder injury was seen as a reason for his drop-off after his strong rookie campaign in 2016 following a prison sentence for an accident while driving drunk. His command, in addition to his upper-90s velocity and put-away slider, was considered a strength.
He didn’t have it early on this season, which led to a demotion to Triple A Round Rock and also led to concerns about his health. While on the disabled list, he has discovered one benefit.
“This time has been great for me to get back to being myself, throwing the ball naturally and just remembering I never had to think about things before when I was first called up and pitching in the big leagues with the team,” Bush said. “Really just getting back to letting things happening, listening to the pitching coaches and playing advanced catcher. That’s really what it is.”
He misses it and is looking forward to 2019 after a season wrecked by injury. But it wasn’t a trial run at starting that wrecked it, he said.
“I’d love to be out there in a game,” Bush said. “It’s really tough to not be out there, but I have to stick to the plan. I’ve had Tommy John before. It’s been quite a while now, so I’m just being smart about ... and just following the plan and protocol and what they have for this kind of injury.”