Bush surprised by baseball journey
Brewers starting pitcher began as a catcher in high school
PHOENIX -- Ten years ago, Dave Bush was a defensive-minded high school catcher. Four years later he was a highly touted closer at Wake Forest University, and three years after that he was a professional starting pitcher in the Blue Jays system.
Now Bush is entering his sophomore season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Where will his bizarre baseball journey take him next? Not even he knows.
"Sometimes I sit back and think how fortunate I have been," Bush said after struggling through a Spring Training start Wednesday. "Ten years ago, this is not the way I would have mapped it out."
Bush struggled to command his two-seam sinker on Wednesday and surrendered four runs, three of them earned, in a blowout loss to the Giants at Maryvale Baseball Park. But for the first time in his big-league career, he has a spot in the starting rotation locked up, and will pitch alongside Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Jeff Suppan and Claudio Vargas in what could be one of the National League Central's more effective starting fives.
He has come a long way from those days behind the plate.
Wake Forest recruited Bush as a catcher, but he arrived on campus behind a senior on the depth chart. If he wanted to play, coaches told Bush, he would have to try to pitch.
Bush accepted, and started getting mopup work out of the bullpen.
"I threw hard, but that was about it," Bush said. "I basically had no pitching experience. At the beginning, I was mostly pitching in situations where we were up by a lot or down by a lot.
"I wasn't even really pitching to hitters. I was just concentrating on trying to throw pitches for strikes. Trial by fire, I guess."
His workload steadily increased, and Bush eventually settled into the closer's role. Tampa Bay drafted him in the fourth round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, but Bush instead returned to Wake Forest for his senior season, when he went 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 13 saves. The Demon Deacons were 73-0 when leading after seven innings during the final two seasons of Bush's tenure there.
The Blue Jays took him in the second round of the 2002 Draft, and it was on to Auburn, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla., homes to Class A Jays affiliates. When Bush reported to Spring Training the following year, Toronto had another change in mind: He would convert to a starter.
Bush was not thrilled with the edict. He was not a fan of the original decision in college to switch to pitching, either.
"I didn't really have a choice either time, but it took me a little while to get comfortable," he said. "I was used to being out there every day, and it was a big adjustment to have those four days in-between starts. I had to figure out how to get something out of that time."
It was a good move. Bush went a combined 14-3 for Dunedin and Double-A New Haven in 2003, and midway through the 2004 season he found himself in the Major Leagues. Bush went 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 16 promising starts for the Blue Jays.
The 2005 season was more trying (5-11, 4.49 ERA in 25 games before a demotion) but Bush was traded at the 2005 Winter Meetings to Milwaukee in the Lyle Overbay deal. It offered an opportunity for a fresh start.
"I wouldn't say I was surprised, I would say I was 'pleasantly fulfilled,'" Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "You knew that if he did certain things, he could be successful. And he did those things."
The Brewers hope to be "pleasantly fulfilled" again in 2007, though this time Bush will not fly so low on the radar. He led Brewers pitchers with 12 wins last season and set career highs in every category including starts (32), innings (210) and strikeouts (166) in his first full Major League season.
Bush threw three complete games, including a pair of shutouts.
"It was an approach to pitching that we talked about," Maddux said. "It was about keeping the ball in the ballpark, pitching low in the zone, working both sides of the plate. That's why I say his success didn't surprise me, because you knew he had the stuff. He just needed to know how to use his stuff."
Bush believes his relative quick transition to the mound has a bright side.
"A lot of kids burn out when they get to college," he said. "You hear about guys having problems with shoulders or elbows. I didn't have that problem. By the time I finished college, I probably had pitched 250 innings in my whole life. I feel great right now."
He didn't feel so great on the mound Wednesday. Bush surrendered a run in the first inning and another in the second, but could have escaped further damage had a two-strike, two-out offering to left fielder Frederick Lewis been called strike three. Lewis hit the next pitch for a go-ahead, ground-rule double.
"I don't care if it's an exhibition game or not," Bush said. "I don't like to have outings like that where I get hit around. It's not the same as it happening in the middle of the season, but you don't want to have days like this. It gives me something to work on in the next couple of days."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.