Schilling prepared for heavy workload

Optimistic Schilling ready for heavy workload

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Curt Schilling finished answering the second question of a 17-minute session with reporters on Saturday, he tapped his left hand on the blue wooden bench in front of the Red Sox's Minor League complex.

"It's very different," the right-hander said, comparing this year's feel in Fort Myers to February 2005. "I am expecting to go out and do what I was expecting to go out and do in 2004 and the years before that. I feel good. My arm feels great and my ankle feels good. There are no real health issues with me, knock on wood. I'm just looking at moving forward."

Wooden bench or not, this Spring Training camp couldn't feel more different to Schilling, and that's a very good thing. After spending last season trying to recover from right ankle surgery following his heroics in the 2004 postseason, Schilling finally feels ready to start a season healthy.

"It's a relief -- a relief," Schilling said. "I understand my position on this team and what that means. Being healthy makes it much easier on me in the end. If I don't do well, it's because I don't do well, period."

Of course, last year, Schilling attempted to come back two weeks into the season, only to land back on the disabled list on April 27.

"This wasn't really a winter rehab as much as it was getting over some [physical] thresholds," Schilling said. "About six or seven weeks ago, I turned a corner, and I don't really know why. For the first time since April 2004, I could do manual work, running, moving and a lot of the things that go with staying in shape and getting in pitching, and that's made a big difference."

From a team standpoint, Schilling is as optimistic about the club going back to the postseason as he is about his health.

"I'm excited," he said. "This, I think, is going to be a fantastic group of guys. Some of the new guys coming in, knowing them from before, knowing the kind of guys they are, I think it's going to be a real good mix."

What Schilling would like to change, of course, is how he felt from start to start in late March and April.

"There's no comparison," Schilling said. "Last year was a matter of trying to survive game to game, going out pitching, then spending four days trying to be ready to do it again. You can't perform at any consistent level at this level with that approach. You have to go out and pitch and then get ready for the next game in a preparation mode, physically and mentally, and I haven't been able to do that for an extended period of time."

What disappointed Schilling more than his uncharacteristic 8-8 record and 5.69 ERA last year was the fact that he threw only 93 1/3 innings, his fewest since 1994, when he was on the Phillies.

"Innings," Schilling said of the statistic that means the most to him. "The No. 1 stat for someone in a rotation, especially someone at the top of the rotation, is innings, because if you pitch the innings, everything else takes care of itself. With this team, that's even more apparent, more drastic. With our offense and, this year with our defense, if you're in the game, you're going to win a whole lot more than you lose."

Schilling doesn't have to wait until mid-September to calculate his magic number. It's 245, as in the number of innings he is hoping to pitch in 2006. The right-hander is hoping to make 35 starts, going seven innings per outing, to reach that goal.

Schilling knows that there are doubters out there who wonder if his age, 39, and his injuries over the last two seasons will keep him from reaching such lofty personal expectations.

"I don't see that there's a limit here," Schilling said. "I know there are some people out there who profess at my age I can't win 20 and that going 200 innings is going to be a huge accomplishment. I don't see that. I see that as that's what's expected of me, that's what I'm preparing to do and that's what I'm going to go out and do."

And what will Schilling consider a successful camp?

"If I get 30 to 35 innings in and finish healthy," he said.

Schilling has already taken a very important first step in that direction.

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.