Former No. 1 pick Matt Bush, out of jail, shows 97-mph fastball for Rangers

Matt Bush, seen here during spring training with the Rays in 2012, was the top overall pick of the 2004 draft. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The last time Matt Bush wore a major league uniform was March 2012. He was on the brink of making the big leagues after striking out 77 batters in 50⅓ innings in Double-A and had pitched 4⅔ scoreless innings that spring for the Tampa Bay Rays.

On March 22, 2012, he asked to borrow teammate Brandon Guyer's truck. A night of drinking then driving would end with Bush nearly killing a motorcyclist after he clipped him, drove over his head and fled the scene. He was so drunk he couldn't even find his way home. He'd end up spending 3½ years in prison.

He was released Oct. 30, 2015, and the Texas Rangers signed him in December. Bush says he has been sober since the accident. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admitted in December that the initial response "was one of skepticism." And let’s be honest here: The Rangers are giving Bush another chance to reach the big leagues not because they're into giving third chances but because he throws 97 mph with a hard-breaking 79-mph curveball.

Bush has been in minor league camp and the Rangers gave the right-hander two innings in Wednesday's game against the Cubs as a reward for his hard work and following the rules they put in place for him. He threw two hitless innings, striking out two batters, walking one and flashing obvious big league talent in a 5-0 Texas victory. "As good as stuff as we've seen in camp," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Explosive fastball, kept it down to both sides of the plate, breaking ball at the knees."

Bush is no longer the troubled kid the Padres drafted first overall in 2004. Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver were the consensus top players that year, but both were Scott Boras clients and the Padres, scared off by their asking price, instead drafted the local kid from Mission Bay High School in San Diego. He'd get into a fight outside a nightclub and be suspended before his first professional game.

He's 30 now with a thick lower half -- he's only 5 feet 10 -- and worked from the stretch Wednesday, his glove up near his chin, with a quick leg kick and powerful follow-through. His first three pitchers to Cubs infielder Kris Negron: 96, 97, 97. He got Kyle Schwarber to ground out on a curveball, blew two fastballs past Jorge Soler -- one of the best fastball hitters in the league -- and fanned him on a nasty breaker, nine strikes in 10 pitches in that first frame.

"Very exciting," Bush said after the game. "I had thought about it. It's been a long time since I've been in a major league spring training and was just happy to have that opportunity again. I was excited all day today. It came up pretty fast, but once I got out there I felt comfortable."

Bush said he fed off the excitement since he's a guy who relies on velocity. Once the action started, he said he just envisioned himself pitching out on one of the back fields -- granted, with a bigger audience. He admitted to glancing back once or twice to check his velocity on the scoreboard.

Camp has gone better than he could have envisioned. He said he didn't think he'd be throwing so hard so soon, but credits the Rangers for getting him in shape and giving him a support structure. He can even think about pitching in the majors.

"It's always my dream. I always visualize it," he said. "I wonder what it would be like to throw in a regular-season game. It would be a dream come true."

Is it a redemption story? I don't know. It's a hard story. He nearly killed a man. At one party, he reportedly threw a baseball at a woman's head.

"I know people are going to say what they say," Rangers outfielder Ian Desmond said. "I hope it works out. I'm rooting for him."

Desmond was part of that same 2004 draft class and says he has followed Bush's career. "It's good to see he's making choices in the right direction. I told him, 'You got this far. You deserved it.' "

Desmond said he was impressed with the fastball and power curveball. "That will play at any level," he said.

Derek Holland, who pitched five scoreless innings before Bush came on, didn't see Bush's outing but said, "I'm happy for him that he's getting the opportunity."

So Bush is getting another chance. How do you feel about it? Brandon Land wrote this on Tuesday night for One Strike Away, his Rangers blog:

So if the Rangers are willing to take the chance, then count me in. Although I've never dealt with addiction, I've had friends who have. It's very real, and it's very powerful. It destroys lives; not only those suffering from the addiction, but to those around them, to innocent bystanders, and everyone in between.

And while it might not be "popular" to openly root for a man with an alcohol problem, that's exactly what I'm doing. Because believing in redemption in all of us, no matter our flaws, is a character trait I value very highly.

It just so happens that Matt Bush can still throw a baseball very well. It's easy for the average person to sit back and claim that a man who has screwed up so badly shouldn't have the chance to play a sport for a living once again. And if that's your opinion, that's fine.

As impressive as Bush’s outing was, Banister cautioned the media, "He's had one outing. He's been on the back fields. He knows how far he's come and how far he has to go."

That's ultimately the bottom line: Everyone can see the electric stuff in Bush's right arm. It's everything else that he still has to prove.