Every big-leaguer carries with him a story of how he arrived at the highest level of the game.
Often these tales can be neatly summarized as "he's really good at baseball" but for others, their road to the show is littered with personal strife and persistent demons.
In the case of Matt Bush, it's hard to recall a player taking such a circuitous route to the major leagues. While most farmhands toil in the upper levels of the minors for a few seasons, Bush has spent his last three serving prison time for a DUI.
The rest of his macabre rapsheet, if presented as a film script, would make a movie about Freddie Prinze Jr. tearing up the Cape Cod League seem believable in comparison.
Bush's sordid history with addiction and the law will surely be discussed upon his arrival in the Bigs, but the more intriguing narrative is not where the 30-year-old rookie has been but where he goes from here.
It's not often a player washes out of the game in such dramatic fashion as Matt Bush. It's less often that washout would re-emerge a decade later, possessing filthier stuff than he ever showed as a prospect.
It's never that a team would scout and sign that player based off bullpen sessions in the parking lot of a Golden Corral 'restaurant', where Bush made $8.00/hr as part of his prison release program.
But that's where we are in Matt Bush's comeback story: just months after completing his three-year jail sentence, he's been summoned to the big leagues following a successful 12-game stint out of the AA Frisco Roughriders' bullpen. Does Bush have the stuff to stick in the big leagues, and more importantly, can he overcome his past to be successful on the game's biggest stage?
Despite four years away from organized ball, Bush needed just one spring training and a handful of Texas League appearances to round himself into the finest form of his career.
Thanks to YouTuber dcwildcat97, we can view a first-person account of Bush's major league debut to confirm what some Texas tweeters have been whispering about since the beginning of April: Matt Bush is dealing right now, and he absolutely (and improbably) appears to have the stuff and poise to pitch high-leverage innings for the big club.
The former shortstop-turned-pitcher always did have a fastball one could dream on, but his current iteration of high-90's heat is a notch or two higher than anything we saw from him in his last prospect life. Bush consistently hits 97-98 with his four-seamer, and that he pitches out of the stretch and with such an easy delivery make the gun readings that much more impressive. While Bush works the rest of his repertoire up to snuff, he'll mainly rely on commanding his power heater and its' sneaky natural movement to generate outs.
Attempting to decipher Bush's secondary offerings after barely a dozen relief outings may prove to be a fools' errand, so let's go ahead and do just that. Using a bevy of clues left by the baseball bloggeratti as well as his (regular season) PitchF/X debut, we may be able to surmise what the newest Ranger is working with - and what he's holding up his sleeve, still polishing up for game use.
Until May 7th, Bush used only a simplified fastball-curve combo during his first month back in the minors. The bender is a hard 79-83 breaker that features enough movement to be a consistent bat-misser in the Bigs. BrooksBaseball's first look at the pitch supports the notion that Bush's uncommon arm speed allow him to supply ample torque and RPMs, giving his curve punchout-potential if he can continue to keep it down in the zone.
Less than one week before making his MLB debut, Bush brandished a low-90's slider in game action for the first time. Though the pitch is very much in its' infancy, the early results speak for themselves in that Bush got his big-league call following just two appearances in which he was allowed to show off his slide-piece. With PitchF/X charting 5 sliders from his 17-pitch debut, it's obvious he has the confidence to throw it right away - and against the meanest 2-3-4 hitters in the game at that. It is conceivable that continued usage of the pitch will see Bush soon find an optimal release point and be able to flip it to batters of either side in any count, much in the way that he was an extremely quick study with grasping command of his fastball-curve combo right out of the chute.
A small bit of amateur sleuthing/social media creeping reveals that Bush may have more in his arsenal that he's yet to unleash. Lone Star Ball caught up with the Rangers' rook in early April, and among the more intriguing nuggets from the explosive piece is that Bush cops to the existence of both a two-seamer and a changeup, weapons which he's been asked to keep in the holster while concentrating on sound mechanics and staying healthy. In a video shot within two weeks of his October prison release, we can see Bush calling out his two-seam at the 2:00 mark as well as a host of filthy offerings that sizzle by in the empty gymnasium.
It's unclear if there is a plan to eventually allow Bush to incorporate his full array versus major league hitters. What is clear is if there are further unseen developments in regards to Bush's repertoire, twitter user @TepidP will be the one to tell us it's so.
The Other Stuff
Every season seems to unearth a new human interest story designed to kick collective baseball fans right 'in the feels'.
Josh Hamilton's redemption tour was inspiring. Rick Ankiel's outfield play was awe-inducing. Mike Piazza's post-9/11 HR was moving. Bartolo Colon's homerun trot was slow.
The early leader in the clubhouse for fairy tale of the year is unfolding down in Arlington, where a former top prospect emerges from a decade-long battle with addiction and then incarceration, only to return with the same physical gifts that made him such a highly-touted teenager.
Said to be four years sober, Bush begins the process of writing his own redemption tale. Texas understandably tried to limit his exposure and workload upon his return to the game, but his innate command of a filthy arsenal meant there was nothing left to prove in the minors.
In Matt Bush, the Rangers may have found a shutdown reliever for the bullpen. In the Ranger bullpen, Matt Bush may be finally finding his peace.