Bush showing improvement as setup reliever

Bush showing improvement as setup reliever

KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Matt Bush still maintains a crucial role in the Rangers' bullpen. His scoreless eighth inning as a setup reliever was a big part of the 5-3 victory over the Royals on Friday night.

But it appears that stepping back from the closer's role and returning to setup duty has been a good move for Bush. He entered Saturday's game having thrown five scoreless innings over five appearances as a setup reliever, allowing one hit and a walk while striking out six.

"Just been focusing on my routine a little bit more and just finding ways to improve," Bush said. "Focusing more on my pitch location. Preparing myself mentally as the day starts to get out there and be ready to perform."

Bush was taken out of the closer's role by manager Jeff Banister after going through a stretch of 11 appearances in which Bush had a 9.58 ERA and four blown saves in eight opportunities.

Bush, who was a setup man as a rookie in 2016, was thrust unexpectedly into the closer's role in early May this season when Sam Dyson went through his struggles. It was new experience for Bush and he had trouble adapting after everything had gone so smoothly as a carefully used setup reliever last year.

"Just a learning experience for me," Bush said. "Being places and doing things that I've never encountered before and trying to bounce back. There was just a little bit of a tough road there for me but realizing it's all part of the game. I just haven't had that experience so it was a little difficult for me to bounce back."

Bush has had more success in a setup role throwing his high fastball for strikes and keeping his offspeed stuff down in the zone. During the struggles, all of his pitchers were on the same plane and over the heart of the plate.

"Banister did what he needed to do, take a step back with me and it's allowed me to focus and think about some ways for myself to improve," Bush said. "Every closer is going to blow games eventually, every pitcher is going to struggle eventually, but it's all about bouncing back and having something to lean on like having a good routine and things to continue to improve on.

"I just feel like I didn't have that. It all went well last year, my talent was there, my stuff was there and when the struggle hit I didn't know which way to turn really. Taking a step back and looking at some things on the mental side of it has allowed me to pitch like myself again."

Claudio notches the save

Right now, the Rangers are without an official closer although Alex Claudio did a fair impression of it with a scoreless inning on Friday night. The Rangers may give Bush another shot at closing games later in the season. If so, he'll have a better understanding of the role. "There's a difference," Bush said. "It's obvious. The media puts a difference on the ninth inning, everyone puts a difference on the ninth inning. We throw in the seventh or eighth and do well, the guy comes out in the ninth and closes the game, no one cares what the seventh- and eighth-inning guy does. There's a difference."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.