Notes: Schilling aiming for dominance
Lights-out in rehab starts, hurler healthy as he nears return
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling returns to the rotation on either Aug. 5 in Seattle or a day later in Anaheim, he won't be coming in with the idea of easing his way back into form. Schilling, who has been dominant in two Minor League rehab starts, has every intention of reclaiming his role as the ace of the staff.
"I can't be a guy that taxes the bullpen," Schilling said. "[If] I want to come back here and be the best pitcher on the staff, I've got to be able to pitch deep in ballgames. That's what they count on me to do."
For the first time this season, Schilling feels he's in proper condition to be counted on. The bout of right shoulder tendinitis that sent Schilling to the DL gave him a chance to rebuild his arm strength and refine his mechanics, and the results have been eye-opening thus far.
Schilling will make one last Minor League tune-up, going for Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday against Columbus. The main goal in that start will be to build his pitch count back up.
Schilling registered eight strikeouts in a 66-pitch performance at Toledo on Thursday.
Which improvements have been the most noticeable during his rehab?
"The movement of my split and the angle I'm able to throw my fastball with now," said Schilling. "I felt like yesterday, I threw some balls that were on the gun [at] 90, 91 [mph], and they were getting reactions like the ball was 95, 96. That tells me that I'm getting back to the nice, free, easy and soft delivery that I used to have and the ball is coming out of my hand with a lot more life on it. This whole year, it's always been a lot of effort to get it there. That's one of the huge things I've noticed."
Schilling can now acknowledge that he was never 100 percent right before going on the DL. He's excited about being able to implement his program while feeling physically strong.
"It's tempered excitement," said Schilling. "I feel great. I feel good today, I feel strong. I think we're at a point now when I can really grind it between starts and work hard and still be in peak form on that fifth day. Instead of when you're not healthy, [when] you tend to play an unwinnable game. You pitch and you just fight your way to be able to pitch again instead of just working on things -- so you're never really sharp. We're not there. We're getting better between starts, we're getting stronger between starts, and I feel strong."
As for which day Schilling will return to the rotation, manager Terry Francona said it depends on how taxing Josh Beckett's outing is against the Orioles on Tuesday. If Francona feels Beckett needs an extra day of rest, Schilling will pitch the Aug. 5 game in Seattle. Otherwise, he'll open the three-game series in Anaheim on Aug. 6.
Manny hitting like Manny: Majestic home runs such as the one he hit Thursday night in Cleveland just serve as an exclamation point for the recent rejuvenation of Manny Ramirez. The star slugger has regained his expected level of dominance in the second half. In his first 15 games after the All-Star break, Ramirez hit .415 (22-for-53) with six homers and 19 RBIs.
"We've come to expect it," Francona said. "He's kind of set the bar high for himself. That first pitch he swung at yesterday, that ball went a long way. It's fun to watch."
Earlier in the year, Ramirez struggled to find his power stroke.
"I think he knew he was uncomfortable," Francona said. "He was worried about where his hands were, things like that. He still has the ability to get hits, even when he's not comfortable. When he gets comfortable, he has a chance to be Manny."
Lugo returns to the Trop: Shortstop Julio Lugo was surrounded by local media before the game, as he made his first visit to Tropicana Field since the Rays traded him to the Dodgers last July 31.
"It's just weird to be back here on the other side," said Lugo. "I've never been on this side. It feels good to come back and see some of the guys."
The difference between playing for the Devil Rays and the Red Sox?
"Like night and day," said Lugo, whose Red Sox led the Devil Rays by 23 1/2 games entering the current three-game series against Tampa Bay.
Lugo entered the night with a career-high hitting streak of 15 games.
Odds and ends: Rehabbing right-hander Matt Clement drove from Fort Myers, Fla., to St. Petersburg so he can spend the weekend under the supervision of Boston's Major League training staff. Clement will throw a side session before Saturday's game. ... Second baseman Dustin Pedroia got a rest on Friday night, with Alex Cora filling in. ... Reliever Brendan Donnelly, who hasn't pitched since June 10 because of right forearm woes, extended his long toss to about 110 feet.
On deck: Left-hander Jon Lester (1-0, 3.00 ERA) will make his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday night against the Devil Rays. He'll be opposed by right-hander James Shields (8-6, 4.44). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.