Schilling returns to rotation

Schilling returns to rotation

ANAHEIM -- Roughly 12 hours after Curt Schilling turned in his most impressive performance since moving into the closer's role, Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced that the big right-hander will return to his role as a starting pitcher on Thursday night at Kansas City.

The news was clearly a positive development for the Red Sox, who will finally have their ace back.

General manager Theo Epstein "and I talked a lot about it," said Francona. "We all sat down together and talked our way through it. Then we made the decision this is the best way to get him back in. There's a lot of deciding factors."

Tim Wakefield was pelted on the right ankle by a line drive in his last start, and Schilling's re-entry will allow the knuckleballer a few extra days of rest before he starts Friday against the Tigers. Wade Miller is on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness and David Wells is in the process of appealing a six-game suspension.

And, for Schilling to be a major factor as a starter late in the season and into October, the Red Sox felt time was of the essence to begin the transition.

Schilling last started a game for the Red Sox on April 23 against the Devil Rays. After that, he went on the disabled list with recurring right ankle woes.

Once Schilling returned to the active roster on July 14, he became the closer, which served an obvious need with Keith Foulke on the disabled list following knee surgery.

With Foulke's return right around the corner -- he might go on a Minor League rehab assignment next week -- the Red Sox thought the time was right to get Schilling back to doing what he does best.

Schilling will stay in the bullpen for the final two games of this four-game series in Anaheim. Beginning on Tuesday, veteran Mike Timlin -- who has 119 career saves -- will probably get the bulk of the save opportunities until Foulke returns.

"There will be some opportunities for him to get saves that haven't been there," Francona said. "But other than that, I don't see using him a whole lot different. We just need him to get outs. He may end up going two innings, just like we've done with Schil. We'll just continue to try to get our bullpen guys to get outs. I honestly feel if guys in the bullpen get outs, it doesn't matter where they pitch. If they get outs, we're going to win. That's how we approach it."

Six-time All-Star Schilling, who has been on board all along with whatever Francona has asked him to do, is looking forward to going back to what he does best.

Still, Schilling won't be pleased until he gets the results he's become accustomed to over his decade-plus career as one of the game's premier starting pitchers.

"Well, I mean, I still have to go out and perform," said Schilling. "Me going back to the rotation is not the answer unless I go back and I pitch well and I dominate. Still a lot has to happen."

It has been a tough go of it for Schilling since he underwent comprehensive surgery on his right ankle on Nov. 9, 2004. He struggled mightily in three starts in the rotation at the start of the season, then shut it down for two months with a stress reaction in the ankle.

While on a Minor League rehab assignment in July, Schilling was frustrated with his results, particularly the lack of consistent velocity on his fastball. At that same time, Foulke went down, and Schilling stepped in and stabilized the bullpen, though he did have some rough outings.

Schilling produced a brilliant outing in Friday's win over the Angels, retiring all six batters he faced and notching four strikeouts.

"That was the most he's looked like himself in a long time," Epstein said. "It's a good springboard to get him back in the rotation."

"I pitched more," said Schilling. "I used all my pitches like I would as a starter. And we located well. All the things you do normally when you're going well. We located and we had good command and we pitched."

As for the ankle, Schilling says that feels fine.

"That's been the frustrating part. My foot has felt fine for an extended period of time," Schilling said. "The results weren't changing as much as I would have liked them to. I'm just going to keep working and hopefully within the next four to five weeks, I can be planning on going nine [innings] by the time it's my turn to take the ball."

Before that, Schilling will obviously be limited in how many innings he can go. But with hard-throwing righty Jonathan Papelbon on the roster, as well as long men Jeremi Gonzalez and Lenny DiNardo, the Red Sox feel they have the ability to piggyback Schilling in the short-term and not tax the rest of the staff.

There also seems to be an increasing likelihood that first-round draft pick Craig Hansen, just three months removed from being a closer for St. John's, will join the Red Sox, perhaps by next week. That will add further depth to the bullpen, something the Red Sox can certainly use in the days leading up to Foulke's return.

Foulke, despite being belted on the right elbow by a Trot Nixon liner in Friday's simulated game, expects to be back in the Boston bullpen by Sept. 1, if not sooner.

"I'm glad he feels that way. I hope he's right," said Francona. "I don't know if I can sit here after a guy gets hit in the elbow after throwing four pitches and guarantee that. That would be silly."

But the most important development of the day was that the Boston rotation is getting its anchor back, something that is likely needed to duplicated the feats of last October.

What are Schilling's expectations?

"To win," he said.

The Red Sox entered Saturday's game against the Angels with a four-game lead in the American League East, and that has been accomplished without an ace. Now, they have reason to think their best baseball of the season is yet to come.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.