Cust, Bush happy for chance with Phillies organization

Posted: August 16, 2011

ALLENTOWN - They are a pair of local boys cast off by other clubs, who returned home to help the Phillies down the stretch, into October, and maybe next season, too.

Lefthanded slugger Jack Cust and righthanded starter Dave Bush signed with the Phillies for now, and later. Both are at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Cust is 2-for-9 in three games with the IronPigs, even as lefty prospect Domonic Brown struggles.

Bush starts in Allentown tonight, likely with a bevy of Delaware County folks in the stands. They might be getting a preview of Roy Oswalt's replacement next season . . . or Cole Hamels' replacement, pending results from Hamels' reported shoulder MRI.

"Getting them both in now gives us flexibility, in case we want them on the playoff roster," assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. "It also gives us an opportunity to look at guys who can help us next season: a lefthanded bat off the bench and a fifth starter."

Cust, 32, grew up in Flemington, N.J., drafted in the first round in 1997 by Arizona. After fits and starts in the majors with four other teams, he exploded for the A's in a May callup in 2007 with six homers in seven games. He clocked 84 homers between 2007-09.

But after a stormy 2010 with Oakland and a lackluster 2011 in Seattle, he is glad to be close to the Atlantic, even if it means becoming a younger version of Phillies playoff hero Matt Stairs.

"It's like a dream come true. Being able to be back on the East Coast. Close to home," said Cust, who makes his home in Bridgewater, N.J., and now commutes 50 minutes to Allentown. "A great organization."

Bush, 31, starred at Conestoga High in Berwyn. He beat the Phillies in Game 3 of the 2008 National League Division Series. He nearly no-hit them for the Brewers in 2009. Those outings were part of a scorching stretch that seemed to presage stardom for Bush, a second-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2002.

Then, on June 4, 2009, in Florida, Hanley Ramirez ripped a line-drive off Bush's right triceps and set his career back, perhaps permanently.

If that's the case, at least he will have a chance to make the team he worshipped at Veterans Stadium.

"There's a lot of possibilities with it. Especially if it was in Philadelphia, it definitely would fulfill a dream I had since I was a kid," said Bush, whose parents moved to Maine last year to be near him, but who still have season tickets. "If that means an opportunity in September, that would be great."

An opportunity in April would be nice, too.

Ramirez' liner slightly tore Bush's triceps, an injury that, at first, was missed. Bush then tried to pitch through it. Even before the injury, his velocity dwindled through 2009 and 2010, as he went 13-22 with a 5.27 earned-run average in 52 starts.

The Brewers didn't want him back. The Rangers signed him in late January as bullpen insurance. He pitched well in long relief, before they cashed him in May 27 against the Royals.

After warming up in the second inning, then again in the third, Bush was supposed to be untouchable the rest of the game. But the Rangers ran out of pitchers in the 13th. Hours after his first warmup tosses, Bush pitched the 14th.

The Royals touched him for five runs, and three home runs. That started a month of inconsistency, in which he gave up 19 runs in 19 innings. The Rangers released him July 15. He joined the Cubs' Triple A team in Iowa to stretch himself back out, went 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA in five starts, then opted out of his contract to search for a better place.

Bush believes he has found it.

Cust thinks he has found it, too.

Cust thought he would be in Oakland a lot longer. But the A's sent him down after a lackluster 2010 spring training, and he seethed until he was recalled in mid-May. He then signed with the Mariners to be their designated hitter but his swing never came around, and they released him Aug. 4, having hit .213 with three homers in 225 at-bats, and just .178 at home.

Cust never lost his eye - he led the AL in walks in 2008 (and strikeouts, in '07, '08, '09) and he still walks a ton - but he did lose his swing.

"I didn't see the ball well in Seattle's stadium. It's just a weird place," Cust said. "It's tough to see it there."

It's tough to hit it out there, too. After five seasons in Oakland and Seattle, Cust can't wait to get a shot at the short fences at Citizens Bank Park. If he lost his swing in Seattle, he believes he found it in Flemington.

After Seattle released him, Cust spent 5 days hitting with his father, Jack Cust Sr., at the eponymous baseball academy Senior runs for Junior. Dad's advice: Just let it go.

"I got my swing back," Cust said, optimistically. "He knows my swing the best. The ball was jumping off my bat more than it had all year. You could tell in batting practice. I just wasn't using my body enough. Sometimes, you've just got to get things going and let it rip."

Sounds like the way Stairs made his living the past 3 years. He came to the Phillies as a 40-year-old pinch-hitter. His homer against the Dodgers in the 2008 NLCS and his walk in the 2009 NLCS made him beloved in Philadelphia forever.

Stairs stayed in baseball until the Nationals cut him Aug. 1. He made more than $3 million since 2008.

Cust would love to play every day again, to dwarf the $5 million he made the past two seasons, but there are worse ways to make a living. His father agreed, and urged his son to contact the Phillies for this 2-week tryout.

"I've envisioned myself in [Stairs'] role. Who wouldn't want that job? Come in and try and go deep? That just keeps it as simple as possible," Cust said.

So, he gets to audition. So does Bush.

For next month . . . and beyond.

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