Schilling: 'It's a fresh start, for sure'

BOSTON -- Curt Schilling was back in his home stadium Thursday night, nervous and feeling a bit strange about his new spot in the Boston Red Sox bullpen.

After 2½ months on the disabled list -- and two rehabilitation starts that told him he wasn't ready to resume his role in the rotation -- the ace of last year's staff returned as a reliever and probable closer for the World Series champions.

"It's a fresh start, for sure," Schilling said before the opener of a four-game series against the New York Yankees. "I'm a lot nervous."

He was activated on Wednesday after being on the disabled list since April 29 with a bone bruise on his right ankle, the same damaged ankle he pitched on in his strong outings in the AL Championship Series against New York and the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

He had offseason surgery and was 1-2 with an 8.15 ERA when he hurt his ankle on April 23, his last appearance before being disabled. But after five rehab stints, three as a reliever, he was ready to pitch again.

"The goal here is to do what they need me to do as long as they need me to do it, and if I can get back in the rotation somewhere down the road then that works," he said.

He's confident he can pitch well in short bursts until he builds his stamina to return to the rotation. He doesn't think it will be a problem warming up more quickly than he did as a starter or pitching on consecutive days.

In his last two rehab outings, he pitched one scoreless inning on both Saturday and Sunday for Triple-A Pawtucket at Syracuse.

"The only question [about] starting, more than anything, was the ability to maintain the power for five, six, seven, eight innings, and I'm not getting asked to do that out of the bullpen," he said.

Schilling made just one relief appearance in the last 12 seasons, one inning for Arizona on Sept. 29, 2002, as a tuneup for the playoffs. His last relief outing before that was on May 13, 1992, before Philadelphia promoted him to the starting rotation.

"If you have a one- or two- or three-run lead and he has the ball in the ninth inning, as long as he's healthy and throwing like he can, he's a pretty good guy to have with the ball out there," manager Terry Francona said. "He doesn't walk people. He doesn't balk."

The addition of Schilling should help a struggling bullpen in which four relievers have ERAs of at least 6.00. Two of them, closer Keith Foulke and Matt Mantei, are on the disabled list.

The Red Sox obtained righty Chad Bradford on Wednesday in a trade with Oakland after he spent the entire season on the disabled list following back surgery in March. Francona said Bradford's back is fine now and he was active for Thursday's game.

Schilling is expected to get most of the work as the closer with Mike Timlin, who has been outstanding in a setup role, occasionally handling that job.

"We're not going to bring Schill in in the middle of an inning, at least right now," Francona said. "If somebody needs to come in in the seventh or eighth, it's going to be Mike. Hopefully, we'll have a bunch of saves, a bunch of wins, and we'll use Schill a couple of days in a row and then we'll go to Timlin the next night. We're going to use both of them."

Center fielder Johnny Damon said last week Timlin is better suited than Schilling to be the closer.

"Curt really wasn't upset about my comments so Curt and I are fine," Damon said. "The guy's a hero here in Boston."

Schilling said he talked with Damon about the comments and "it's not going to have any impact on how we perform or how we feel about each other as teammates on the field."

The Red Sox should feel great if Schilling is as dominant as a reliever as he was as a starter last season when he went 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA.

"It's a big challenge," Schilling said, "but I don't think it's anything that's beyond my capabilities."