CLEVELAND -- Rewind to a month ago, when there were whispers that reliever Mike Timlin was all but finished. The body of evidence included Timlin's age (41), stints on the disabled list this season (two) and ERA (6.23 on June 26). There was also his horrific finish to 2006 (6.06 ERA in the second half), of which it was later learned that his arm was never right.

Really, was it that far-fetched to suspect that Timlin might never re-emerge as a force in the Boston bullpen? Fair or not, Timlin heard the whispers. And that makes his dramatic resurgence all the more gratifying.

"People can say what they want to say," said Timlin. "If someone tells you you can't do something, what do you try to do?"

Prove them wrong, which, of course, Timlin has.

Entering Thursday's finale of a four-game series in Cleveland, Timlin had produced 16 consecutive scoreless innings, which is the longest streak of a career that began back in 1991. The brilliant stretch has reduced Timlin's ERA to a solid 3.31.

In truth, the reason Timlin is most satisfied with his recent streak is not that he's silenced his critics. What eases his mind is that he's now living up to what he told general manager Theo Epstein back in October, when it came time for a new contract.

Timlin, who represents himself, assured Epstein that he would be both healthy and effective in 2007. But there were many weeks earlier this season when Timlin couldn't live up to either assurance.

"You always want to be reliable," Timlin said. "You want to live up to your word. When you don't, and don't do what you say you're going to do, then you should feel bad. I don't care who you are."

Even Timlin, who for the last five seasons has been considered a leader in the Boston bullpen, admitted that he had some self-doubt earlier in the season.

"There's been doubts," he said. "The way I've been throwing the ball lately, those are kind of alleviated."

Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you can right yourself. That seemed to be the case for Timlin, who reached his true nadir the night of June 25 in Seattle, when he gave up back-to-back home runs and had a bat fly just inches away from his face.

The scoreless streak that is still going on began the next day.

"Things really weren't going my way, and I just decided to stop trying to project everything out and just take one pitch at a time and then work from there, because that's all I can do," said Timlin.

Timlin is just 12 appearances away from 1,000 for his career, which has long been one of his goals. Will he pitch again in 2008?

"I've thought about it," he said. "But it's got to go back to the pitching philosophy. I can only control what I can do today. I'm not going to try to project anything out."

Tito likes prospects: Though Epstein and his staff continue to burn the phones in search of anyone that can help the team before the July 31 trade deadline, manager Terry Francona stays focused on the daily grind. That said, Francona isn't stressing one way or another on whether Epstein will pull the trigger on a move.

"I got online today, and I think I saw 13 teams where it mentioned they were looking for pitching help," Francona said. "You get my point. We're not the only team that's trying to win. I think that probably gets lost somewhat in what's happening. And I think fans probably more than [media] lose sight that you can't just package Double-A and Triple-A prospects and put together a package for a really good player and not lose really good players. It's not going to happen."

Furthermore, Francona realizes the level of some of Boston's Minor League prospects and realizes why Epstein would be hesitant to move them.

"I know Theo has the responsibility to be like a caretaker to the organization. That's not my responsibility," Francona said. "At the same time, I don't think I have a right to be narrow-minded. That would be irresponsible. There's some kids coming that have a chance to be pretty good players."

More rehab for Schill: Francona made official what the team has known for weeks. Curt Schilling will make a third -- and likely final -- Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on July 31 at Columbus.

Barring any setbacks, Schilling is all but certain to return to the Boston rotation after that, perhaps on Aug. 6 at Anaheim.

Another night, another leading man: With lefty Cliff Lee pitching for Cleveland, it was Julio Lugo (who has a career-high hitting streak of 15 games) who led off on Thursday. Coco Crisp has been leading off against righties of late. Francona was noncommittal when asked if J.D. Drew was still in the leadoff mix.

"I really don't know," he said. "Every time we do something, somebody gets nicked up. We'll have it covered either way. That's what I care about."

As for Drew, he was replaced in the lineup on Thursday by Wily Mo Pena.

"Yeah, maybe Wily Mo will bump into one and hit one off that wall off there somewhere or off the scoreboard. Plus we get in [to Tampa] late," Francona said.

Pena drilled a single in his first at-bat to snap an 0-for-11 drought.

On deck: Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (11-9, 4.74 ERA) will face right-hander Jason Hammel (1-0, 5.82) in Friday's opener of a three-game series against the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.