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Bust no more? Rays add Matt Bush to 40-man roster as pitcher

David Brown
Big League Stew

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No longer an object of pity, a source of embarrassment or the butt of jokes, Matt Bush(notes) has taken another step toward reclaiming his career.

Following some minor league success in 2010, Bush received a huge vote of confidence from the Tampa Bay Rays when they added him to their 40-man roster on Saturday.

That means Bush, the first overall pick in the 2004 draft who nearly threw his life way because of alcohol abuse and a bad attitude, has a real chance to make the Rays pitching staff out of spring training.

It's remarkable, considering where Bush was coming from.

The Padres had taken Bush, a local high school kid, ahead of Justin Verlander(notes) — whom the Detroit Tigers picked No. 2 — and paid him a $3.15 million bonus.

The first shortstop picked No. 1 overall since Alex Rodriguez(notes) in 1993, Bush was a disaster on the field, hitting .219/.294/.276 in 722 career at-bats. Desperate to get something for their investment, the Padres tried converting him to pitcher in 2007, but he needed Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in his right arm.

Off the field, Bush was downright destructive — to himself and others.

A fight with high school athletes in 2009 — when it was alleged Bush was drunk — probably was the low point.

Bush, a witness alleges in the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Picked up and threw a freshman lacrosse player and hit another one. Bush also yelled 'I'm Matt [expletive] Bush, and '[expletive] East County.' "

But after saying he's given up drinking, Bush is now showing his major league potential as a pitcher.

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Bush struck out 20 with an 0.878 WHIP in 13 2/3 innings between Rookie and Class A ball in '10. It's not much of a track record, but it's enough to make the AL East champs believe they have something. By adding him to the 40-man, the Rays are sending a clear signal they expect Bush to challenge for a job.

In fact, Rays blogs picked up on speculation during the '10 season that Bush might join the major league team for the stretch drive. Elbow soreness — reportedly unrelated to his Tommy John — was one reason it didn't happen then.

If he makes it to the bigs this time, Bush will follow Verlander and others the Padres passed on in the 2004 first round: Jeff Niemann(notes), Neil Walker(notes), Jered Weaver(notes), Billy Butler(notes), Stephen Drew(notes) and Phil Hughes(notes). Since the MLB draft started in 1965, only two players picked first overall never played in the majors. Bush still could be the third, but at least he's giving himself a real chance now.

Here's hoping he makes it all the way back, so he can say "I'm bleepin' Matt Bush — major leaguer!"

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