Dave Bush did everything right. He was a high school star in Pennsylvania who went on to pitch at Wake Forest and became a second-round draft pick.
He played professionally for 12 years including parts of nine seasons in the majors. Bush took a no-hitter into the eighth inning three times and in his only postseason start pitched into the sixth inning for the Brewers in 2008 and allowed one run.
Bush went into coaching after his playing days were done, first at a prep school in Maine before joining the Red Sox in 2016. He’s a smart, personable guy who quickly gained the trust of the organization.
His reward was coming back to the majors as the pitching coach this season.
Trades, injuries, and illness have left Bush in charge of a staff that through Tuesday had a 6.16 earned run average, the highest in the majors by more than a half-run. The 12-24 Sox also had the highest WHIP (1.64) and allowed the second-most home runs (61).
The Sox have made 38 transactions involving pitchers since the season opened July 24. They have used 11 starters in 36 games, only four fewer than they did over 162 games last season.
Bush ostensibly had a good staff to work with when he landed the job in October. Then David Price was traded to the Dodgers, Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez was ruled out for the season with heart inflammation caused by coronavirus.
Nate Eovaldi got through six starts before landing on the injured list. Then two reliable relievers, Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman, were traded to the Phillies.
Bush now has a few legitimate big leaguers and an assortment of castoffs from other teams along with some ill-equipped rookies.
The statistics are ugly and likely to get even worse. So progress has to be judged in different ways.
“Trying to get better. Trying to get everyone a little bit better,” Bush said Tuesday before a 10-3 loss against the Braves. “Look, I know it’s not showing up on the scoreboard. It’s not always showing up in the stats right now. But there are some things we’re doing better; there are some guys performing better than we and they expected. If you want to look at the big picture, we’re trying to get everybody a little bit better each day.
“Trying to figure out exactly what guys can do. Some of these guys have been put in roles they’re not accustomed to or are new to them and some of them have handled it very, very well and some haven’t. But that’s where we are this year with this group.”
Manager Ron Roenicke, who also was dealt a bad hand, believes Bush is doing as well as he can.
“I don’t think it’s fair to judge a first-year [coach] on something like this,” Roenicke said. “For me, I know the work that he puts in; I know what he’s done. Even when things are going really bad, how he still stays focused on what he needs to do. Very difficult year for him. But I like what he’s done and I’ve relayed that message upstairs.”
The best coaches gain and hold the respect of their players. It’s about communication. But MLB’s pandemic rules allow for only limited face-to-face contact.
Eleven of the 22 pitchers who have been on the roster this season are new to the organization, making that even tougher for Bush.
“It’s been a challenge not just for me and for my pitchers, but across baseball, trying to figure out to get the personal relationships going and how to spend the time one-on-one in a setup where we’re really not supposed to do that,” Bush said.
“One of the things I like about the job is the personal interaction, the one-on-one time. I like working with people; I like seeing them get better. I like having a chance to give them ideas, let them think about it, try stuff, and bounce it back to me. That back and forth is important. For me at least it is.”
If one or two of the newcomers proves to be a contributor in 2021 or beyond, at least something will have been accomplished.
‘“One of the things I like about the job is the personal interaction, the one-on-one time. I like working with people; I like seeing them get better. I like having a chance to give them ideas, let them think about it, try stuff, and bounce it back to me. That back and forth is important. For me at least it is.”’
Phillips Valdez, a thin righthander, has allowed only two earned runs over 21 innings and stuck out 23. Robert Stock, a 30-year-old who once was a second-round pick, has a 97-mile-per-hour fastball and could be serviceable if he figures out his slider. Austin Brice has an above-average curveball, so maybe he has a chance.
“We have guys who performed well; we have guys who have exceeded our expectations,” Bush said. “I see several of them being part of this club in the future.”
Bush is learning his lessons, too.
“In the long run, I’ll be a much better coach because of all the things we’ve all had to deal with this year,” he said.