Gil LeBreton

Matt Bush’s recovery, fastball ready to help Rangers

Former No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush, seen here with the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training in 2012, has never pitched in a major league game.
Former No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush, seen here with the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training in 2012, has never pitched in a major league game. AP

Quietly, soberly, Matt Bush finally seems to be headed to the major leagues.

True, he hasn’t gotten the long-awaited phone call from the Texas Rangers — yet. But how many more strikes does the one-time No. 1 draft pick have to throw? How many more Texas League 22-year-olds does he have to blow away?

Bush began the weekend leading the league with five saves. In his last outing, he threw 11 pitches and all 11 were strikes. In the appearance before that, 13 of 16 were strikes.

And he’s not serving up Home Run Derby stuff. Slamming the door for the Double A Frisco RoughRiders, Bush has regularly displayed a fastball in the 97-98 mph range.

“He has a special arm, and it’s probably an understatement,” said Mike Daly, the Rangers’ senior director of minor league operations, who was in attendance for Saturday’s game against Midland.

“For him to be where he’s been the last couple of years, and then to come in and have the velocity and command he’s had, it’s amazing.

“The velocity is easier to see, but you’ve also seen his ability to throw strikes and command the ball.”

Bush’s back story has been well-chronicled. His battle with alcoholism and the sins of impetuous youth landed him in a Florida jail for 34 months. He paid the price and served his time.

Upon the advice of team special assistant Roy Silver, the Rangers offered Bush a contingency-laden opportunity for redemption. By all accounts, Bush has embraced it fully.

He lives quietly with extended family in the Dallas area. The Rangers have been pleased with Bush’s response, both on and off the field.

“He’s just been really good, on the field and off the field,” Daly said. “Each day is what we’re focused on and he’s focused on.

“This is sort of what we hoped when we first signed him.”

While continuing to stifle the public expectations, no one in the organization has even remotely suggested that Bush’s pitching isn’t major league ready.

Whatever unspoken timetable they had for Bush, however, may have to be scrapped, anyway.

A void was left in the bullpen when Keone Kela went on the 60-day disabled list April 25 — a right elbow impingement, doctors diagnosed.

The ripple effect on the relief staff has been conspicuous. Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman, in particular, seem to be warming up nearly every night.

The Rangers began the weekend series in Detroit with a 4.98 ERA from their bullpen, the highest in the American League. The nine losses tagged by the relievers are the most in baseball. The Texas bullpen has also allowed a league-leading 18 home runs.

Bush could help that. Before Saturday, his Frisco ledger showed 10 appearances for 14 innings and only seven hits and one home run allowed. Opponents were batting .152 against him. He had walked four and struck out 14.

“Our expectation, similar to Matt’s, was day by day,” Daly said. “The most important day each day was always going to be that day. Let’s not think too far down the line.

“That’s how it’s been since spring training, and that’s the approach we’ve continued to take.”

Before alcoholism put him behind bars and nearly ended his baseball career, Bush was the overall No. 1 selection by the San Diego Padres in the 2004 Major League Draft.

He has yet to appear in a major league game.

The day appears to be coming.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton, @gilebreton

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