MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

In return to field, Jeffress shows talent and fire

In return to field, Jeffress shows talent and fire

ARLINGTON -- Jeremy Jeffress is back now, as he puts it, "playing the game I love."

Life has not been an unbroken series of triumphs for Jeffress, but when he is right, he can throw 96-97 mph, with serious sink. He has a power arm, with imposing stuff.

This is the kind of combination that could be really helpful for Jeffress' current employer, the Texas Rangers, especially with the postseason beckoning. That talent and the fact that Jeffress is a completely likable fellow tell you why Rangers players were so excited to see him back on the mound on Monday night, after an absence of more than a month.

• Jeffress turns in 1 1/3 scoreless frames in return

"Everybody was happy to see me," Jeffress said on Tuesday in an interview with MLB.com. "They've been pulling for me the whole way. You know, I was gone for 30-something days, and everybody was happy to see me out there doing my job."

The downside with Jeffress has been substance abuse. He was arrested on Aug. 26 and charged with driving while intoxicated. Twice during Jeffress' Minor League career, the right-hander was suspended after testing positive for marijuana. After the DWI arrest, he checked into a substance abuse treatment facility.

Jeffress came out with a perspective that was healthy.

"I've been through some ups and downs, basically my whole career," Jeffress said, "but it's how you bounce back, what you do from then on, moving forward. I'm just putting everything behind me. I'm still making sure I'm good, making sure my head is right. I'll be fine, take it day by day."

Monday night at Globe Life Park was a mixture of joy and relief for Jeffress and the Rangers. He was back on the mound and paused for a moment, he later said, to take it all in: the field, the crowd, the baseball, the Major League Baseball.

Jeffress strikes out Perez

"I don't take nothing for granted," Jeffress said.

So Jeffress was on the mound on Monday night, in what would eventually be an 8-3 Rangers loss. He was facing the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that had traded him and catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Texas at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"It was great," Jeffress said with a smile. "It felt like my debut again.

"It definitely felt great to be back out there on the field, playing the game I love."

Jeffress faced four batters, retiring all of them, striking out one. He looked a lot like he was supposed to look.

"It was the bright spot of the night, a positive for Jeremy to get into the game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He looked like the Jeremy that we had prior to his absence. He had a good, lively fastball. The secondary stuff was in play -- no real hard contact. It was nice to see him back out there, nice to see him in a good rhythm and the ball coming out of his hand clean."

Banister on Jeffress' effort

Admittedly, Jeffress was throwing 92-94 mph instead of above 95. But that was largely by design.

"I just wanted to get back out there, get my feet wet, not try to overdo anything, make sure I had all my mechanics all right, that my body feels good," Jeffress said.

"I just wanted to make sure the ball was moving, make sure it was sinking enough, and once I see all that stuff, then I can get back to where I'd normally be."

Pitching against the Brewers was a bonus for Jeffress. This was the team that drafted him, developed him, eventually traded him to Kansas City, then re-signed him as a free agent before trading him to the Rangers. Placed in the closer's role for the first time this season, Jeffress was a complete success for Milwaukee, saving 27 games in 28 save opportunities and putting up a 2.22 ERA. He was very happy to have a chance to compete against his former teammates.

"It was awesome, man -- a little competitive nature there," Jeffress said. "I wanted to show those guys that I still have it. We had some talks, and they were like: 'If I ever get to face you, man, I'm going to hit you.' Well, here's your chance, right here, right now. It was good. It was fun."

Brewers manager Craig Counsell has had an opportunity to observe Jeffress from different perspectives -- as a teammate, as a member of Milwaukee's front office and as a manager.

"When you've seen a player from the time he's 18 years old to the time he's [29], we missed a couple of years, obviously, but you see him kind of grow up," Counsell said. "J.J. went through some growing pains, just from growing up, really, and made some mistakes.

"To me, he was just a person who was a great teammate at the field and he was a competitor. Those were the two things that really stuck out, to me. He loved the competition and he was a favorite among teammates. I felt that he had gotten himself in a place where he was going to put himself in a position to have sustained success."

The sustained success remains a possibility for Jeffress. He'll have to earn it, but the ability and the competitive fire are both on his side.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.