With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at relief pitcher Matt Bush.
Matt Bush has been with the Rangers’ organization since December, 2015. In eleven days it will be six years since he first signed with the Rangers, and while he’s had a couple of short stints after being non-tendered or released when he has been a free agent since then, he’s basically been part of the Rangers organization for six years now, heading into a seventh.
Its back in the misty recesses of the past when Bush emerged on the scene, a guy with an unusual backstory who tried out in the parking lot of the Golden Corral where he was working while out on parole after spending several years in prison after almost killing someone in a drunken car crash. The former #1 pick in the MLB Draft, originally an infielder, who now years later was sober and a pitcher and reinventing himself.
Bush was great in 2016, called up as a reinforcement for the pen, putting up a 2.48 ERA and a 2.74 FIP in 61.2 innings over 58 games. He was ridden hard that season — having been out of baseball the previous half-decade, Bush appeared in 72 games between the majors, minors and playoffs, logging 82.1 innings for a Ranger team that had the best record in the A.L. that year but got bounced in the ALDS. The workload was cause for concern, but really, you could say that for just about every good reliever in the Rangers’ pen in 2016, and besides, needs must, the Rangers were trying to win a championship, and Jeff Banister wasn’t going to be shy about riding his best relievers hard.
Bush wasn’t as good in 2017, putting up a 3.78 ERA and a 4.00 FIP in 52.1 innings over 57 games, then split 2018 between the majors and minors. He had surgery in September of that year to repair a partially torn UCL, seemed close to returning in the middle of 2019, and when he was on the verge of being called back up he tore his UCL for real-real and had Tommy John surgery that cost him the rest of 2019 and all of 2020.
But he came back on a two year minor league deal for 2021-22, pitched well in spring training, made the Opening Day roster, made three appearances of an inning apiece and allowed a solo homer in each before landing on the injured list with a flexor tendon strain. An old hand by this point at rehab, Bush did the work, made for appearances for AAA Round Rock late in the year, and then got an attaboy promotion for the final weekend where he threw a scoreless inning in the season finale.
Matt Bush turns 36 in February. I suspect he’ll keep signing minor league deals and pitching to the best of his ability for as long as the Rangers will have him. I imagine that the structure of being in baseball and part of an organization is helpful for him in his sobriety journey, and it appears he wants to keep playing for as long as he can. He’ll no doubt be in camp this spring, and if he’s healthy, he’ll probably end up on the Opening Day roster again in a setup role.
When I look back at the 2004 draft, when Matt Bush was the first overall pick, reading the names is a trip down memory lane. Justin Verlander, of course, was the second pick in that draft, and far and away the best player picked. He’s also still active, though he has appeared in three fewer major league games over the past two seasons than Bush.
But there’s Jeremy Sowers, Vandy lefty who never panned out for the Indians. Homer Bailey, LaGrange, Texas, legend, who made $100 million in pro ball, spent parts of 14 seasons in the majors, and accumulated 5.7 bWAR. The Rice trio of Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend. Greg Golson, drafted out of Connally High School in Austin, Texas, and later acquired by the Rangers for John Mayberry, Jr.
There’s the Rangers’ own disappointing first rounders that year, Thomas Diamond and Eric Hurley. There’s Stephen Drew and Jerad Weaver, the two Scott Boras clients who dropped because of major league contract demands. Billy Butler. Former Ranger Trevor Plouffe. Gio Gonzalez. A pair of Longhorn pitchers, J.P. Howell and Huston Street, who went on to become successful major league relievers. Aggie pitcher Zach Jackson.
Looking at those names...it feels like that was eons ago. Another lifetime ago.
And Matt Bush was the first name called that day. And he’s still hanging around, against all odds.