ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — When Matt Bush was released from prison last October after a 3 1/2-year sentence for a drunken-driving accident, the former No. 1 overall draft pick was sober and just hoping for another chance to play baseball.
Now he is a big leaguer.
The hard-throwing 30-year-old reliever made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers in their 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, retiring Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in order in the ninth.
“I think the crowd gave me chills out there when it got really loud when they introduced my name, and I think everything just hit me,” Bush said. “I was just focused on trying to be myself out there and continuing to do what I did in Double-A.”
His debut came 12 years after he was still a shortstop and picked first by his hometown San Diego Padres. There were several alcohol-related incidents after he was drafted and moves to the Toronto and Tampa Bay organizations before a March 2012 accident in Charlotte County in Florida. He was accused of DUI and leaving the scene of an accident that seriously injured a 72-year-old man on a motorcycle.
Bush went to prison after pleading no contest.
Texas signed him to a minor league deal in December, and he was 0-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings for Double-A Frisco, where he had converted all five of his save chances in his first regular action since 2011.
“Nice to see Matt Bush become a big leaguer tonight. Very composed,” manager Jeff Banister said. “His stuff came out good and clean and hot. ... Very proud of what Matt Bush did tonight.”
Donaldson struck out on a fastball that registered 97 mph on the scoreboard radar. Bautista popped out before Encarnacion, who had homered earlier in the game, fouled out.
After Bush came off the mound to a nice ovation, Banister met him at the steps of the dugout with a handshake and some encouraging words.
“It was pretty surreal, though, with those guys in the box. I like facing right-handers, so that was a good thing,” Bush said. “It felt really good to throw a couple pitches past those guys. That really boosts my confident. To have a scoreless outing the first time, it’s just amazing.”
Bush is still in an Alcoholic Anonymous program, has a curfew and has to avoid alcohol. He can’t drive a motor vehicle, which is part of his deal but also because his license is suspended. Those were all conditions when he signed the minor league deal, and are still in place.
General manager Jon Daniels said before the game that Bush had been an outstanding teammate during spring training and at Double-A while following the protocols set for him. Daniels said team officials watching him felt he was well-equipped to handle being in the majors and that additional time in the minors wouldn’t necessarily make it any better.
Bush said before the game that baseball is easier for him than the battle off the field, but that he continues to take things one day at a time and never wants to put himself in that kind of situation again.
“I realized I’m not the same person when I drink. I tend to make horrible choices,” Bush said. “I don’t ever want to be that person again. I like myself today and being sober. I feel like I’m living a dream and I don’t ever want this to stop.”
The Rangers first took a look at Bush on a recommendation from Roy Silver, a player development assistant for the team who has helped others come back from troubled pasts. Silver had a big impact on slugger Josh Hamilton, the former No. 1 overall pick who was out of baseball for more than three years because of cocaine and alcohol addictions. Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP and a five-time All-Star, is currently on the Rangers’ disabled list recovering from left knee surgery.
Silver or Bush’s father will remain a constant companion for the pitcher off the field. His father was with him in Frisco.
To clear a spot on the 25-man roster for Bush, the Rangers sent struggling center fielder Delino DeShields to Triple-A Round Rock. They had a 40-man spot after trading Anthony Ranaudo to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.
Blue Jays: Marco Estrada (1-2) pitches at Texas for the first time since holding the Rangers to one run over 6 1/3 innings in Game 3 of the division series last October. The right-hander got a no-decision at home against the Rangers last week when he allowed one run over six innings.
Rangers: Colby Lewis has gone at least six innings in his last seven starts, the longest streak for a member of the Rangers’ season-opening rotation since Alexi Ogando’s 12 in a row in 2011. He is winless in his last four outings against Toronto, including last week when he went seven innings in a no-decision.