Schilling comfortable with changeup
Red Sox's ace fine-tunes pitch against Minor Leaguers
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the Red Sox traveling to Fort Lauderdale to take on the Orioles on Sunday, Curt Schilling, who prefers to avoid American League East foes in Grapefruit League games, pitched a Triple-A game at the team's Minor League complex against the Reds' Louisville Bats.
With Jason Varitek catching, Schilling threw 98 pitches, 70 for strikes, giving up a run on four hits, striking out six, without walking a batter over six innings. He struck out the side in order in the first inning.
"[I felt] strong," Schilling said. "I thought I had a lot of life and a lot of strength at the end."
Schilling, who has been working on adding a changeup to his repertoire this spring, was pleased with the progress of the pitch, saying the element of his outing he was dissatisfied with was the command on his fastball.
In the fifth inning, Schilling gave up a solo home run to Jay Bruce and a double to Aaron Herr, the next batter, both on fastballs up in the zone.
"It's command. It's Spring Training," Schilling said. "I did it last year during the season, overthrowing in cripple counts, overthrowing in fastball counts, which is something I can't do. You can do that when you're throwing 98 [mph] and get away with it every now and then. You can't do it at 92, 93, and it's just something that I've got to beat into myself.
"I can throw a fastball for a strike, I think, as easily as I can sleep. I would love to have had it today. It wasn't there. But it's something that I feel comfortable that I'll always have. Just today, it wasn't as sharp, and I attribute that to being March."
Of his 98 pitches, Schilling threw 19 changeups, including one on a 3-2 count to Chris Dickerson for a swinging strikeout in the second inning.
"[The changeup is] better," Schilling said. "It's gotten progressively better. More positives have happened each time out and less negatives, which is good. I threw some bad ones today, but ... today was the first day I started to feel like it was one of my pitches. There was a lot less to throwing it than there has been in the past.
"The difference today was that a couple times when I went to throw it, I turned it over to make it fade as opposed to worrying about just throwing a good one, which means that mentally I'm getting to the point where it's just a pitch that I'm going to throw and I don't think about. But there's a couple times when I tried to hurry up and throw it so I wouldn't make a bad throw."
Sox pitching coach John Farrell was pleased with what he saw from Schilling's outing.
"I thought he threw the ball very well," Farrell said. "Sometimes for a Major League pitcher to come over to the Minor League side, sometimes the intensity isn't quite there. But that's never been an issue with Curt, whether it's been a simulated game five days ago or today. That speaks to his professionalism."
Farrell noted that Schilling maintained his velocity and there was an emphasis on the changeup.
"I think the overall number of quality changeups is continuing to increase, and it's going to be a very effective pitch for him," Farrell said.
Schilling said he no longer considers the changeup a work in progress. Farrell concurred, saying the pitch is ready for the regular season.
"At this point, is it the final product [that] it will become? I don't think it is," Farrell said. "But I think it's a pitch right now he could take into a Major League game, for sure."
Boston's ace even started to make the pitch fade away from left-handers, said Farrell.
"I always look at that pitch with three elements to it: its arm speed, change of velocity and its location," Farrell said. "If you've got two of those three, you've got a usable pitch -- and he has that. How refined it becomes, I think it's going to gain through repetition and using it against quality Major League hitters."
Schilling, who said he is ahead of where he expected to be at this point in the spring, said he has lost about nine pounds after reporting to camp approximately six pounds over where he wanted to be.
"I'm happy physically," he said. "Extremely happy. I feel strong. I can't discount the fact that the weight that I dropped has played a huge part in that. I feel stronger now. When I was at my best, I would feel stronger in the sixth, seventh, eighth, than I did in the first or second. And I think that's how I felt my last two times out."
Schilling's next start is scheduled for Friday at City of Palms against the Orioles, with a target of 100 to 105 pitches.
All three of Schilling's Grapefruit League starts have been against the Twins, and two of the games featured defending AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. Schilling (1-1, 1.93 ERA) has not made a big-league start since March 8, when he took the loss, with Santana the winner. Since then, in addition to Sunday's outing, Schilling also pitched a simulated game Tuesday at City of Palms Park, after returning from the funeral for John Vukovich, while the Sox played the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
"It's not as big of a deal as you would think I think it is," Schilling said of avoiding AL East teams in Spring Training. "It's more a matter of I know that when I see the Orioles, whether it be in April or July, I will be prepped for them. I will have studied them. I will have seen video of them. And they'll see video of me. But if they see me three, four, five times in Spring Training, there's a comfort level that they wouldn't normally have.
"But I'm going to see the Twins maybe twice at the most, and that's different. But when you're talking about facing teams five or six times -- good hitters, veteran hitters, who get a rhythm, get a feel -- they might see something that they get comfortable with in Spring Training. If it gets me five extra outs during the season, it's worth it. If it gets me five extra outs in a game, obviously it's worth it.
"In the end, whether it gives me a huge advantage or not is irrelevant. I think it does. So that's all that matters to me."
Farrell sees no issue with accommodating Schilling's preference.
"I think every pitcher has their preference," said Farrell, who added that Schilling has earned the right to face who he pleases during the spring. "When we talked over the offseason and I asked him what does he like to get accomplished or what does he factor in [during] Spring Training, this is one of those. So out of respect to him and something he's done throughout the most recent years in his career, there's ways we can accommodate that yet still get him ready for the regular season, which we're doing."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.