06/27/07 10:51 PM ET
Notes: Schilling out until All-Star break
Okajima throws hitters curve; Crisp making big strides on trip
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Schilling has had no setbacks. In fact, he's done well in the initial stages of his recovery. But the Red Sox, in an effort to get a dominant Schilling for the second half, are determined not to rush him.
The plan is for Schilling to be looked at again by the team's medical staff on Monday and, at that point, he might be given clearance to resume throwing.
"We met this morning and went over his program," said Francona. "He could throw now. But I think they want to reach certain levels with testing where, again, all the things we said the other day remain true. We want him to be able to finish the season being a consistent, good pitcher. That's why we're trying to use good judgment. It's not easy. It's not a lot of fun using good judgment. But we're trying to."
And, as much as Schilling would like to return before the All-Star break, Francona said he is on board with the program the team has laid out for him.
"I think he wants to pitch yesterday, which we all do," Francona said. "But no, I think he agrees. He [said], 'I know we're in this together.' He doesn't want to be not pitching, and I understand that. He knows this is in his best interest from our point of view. He just wants to pitch. We actually love when he pitches. I just want him to have a chance to be consistent and not limp home. That's not going to help him or us."
Though left-hander Kason Gabbard struggled mightily on Tuesday night against the Mariners, he is expected to make two more starts in place of Schilling before the break.
The Red Sox open the second half at home against the Blue Jays on July 12, and Schilling might be on the verge of returning at that point.
Schilling is 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 15 starts this season.
Okajima throws hitters for curve: It was two months before Spring Training that Hideki Okajima began perfecting his new secret weapon -- the changeup -- that has fueled his dominant first half.
In Japan, Okajima's best pitch was his curveball. But after signing with the Red Sox on Nov. 30, he began experimenting with the baseball that is used in the Major Leagues. The baseball used in Nippon Professional Baseball is smaller and lighter.
"The thing I found out in December of last year when I began throwing with the American baseball is that I struggled with my curve a little bit," Okajima said through translator Jeff Yamaguchi. "It didn't move a lot with the American baseball. But I found out with the changeup that I could create something new and I said to myself, 'This changeup is something I can use with this new ball.'"
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell continued to work with Okajima on the pitch -- which has a splitter-type dive to it -- during Spring Training. Interestingly, Okajima purposely hid the pitch from hitters during Grapefruit League action.
"I didn't want to use it in the exhibition games, because I didn't want to show it to the hitters," Okajima said. "I wanted to make them think my weapon was the curve, so I went curve, curve, curve. I didn't show that changeup at all."
By unveiling it in games that count, Okajima has been on a surge throughout the first half. He took an 0.96 ERA into Wednesday action.
Drew gets a day: Combining two factors -- day game after a night game and a lefty pitching for the Mariners -- Francona gave J.D. Drew a rest on Wednesday and inserted Wily Mo Pena into right field.
"Yeah, let Wily Mo run out there and maybe he'll run into one and hit it about a mile," Francona said. "We've tried to keep everybody fresh, healthy, productive and get guys at-bats. [Eric] Hinske played yesterday and, you know what, he did a pretty good job. And not only that, but it will help him down the road somewhere and help us get a win."
Coco's resurgence: Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this lengthy road trip for the Red Sox has been the rejuvenation of Coco Crisp's bat. Entering the finale of the nine-game journey, Crisp was 14-for-32 with three homers, five RBIs, eight runs and two stolen bases. During the stretch, Crisp propelled his average from .233 to .259.
Perhaps Crisp is just now regaining full strength in his left hand after fracturing his left index finger in April 2006.
"Big strides," Francona said. "He looks like that kid where you can't throw the fastball by him. You can throw it 100 [mph] and he's going to be right on it. That's all we heard when we got him. You can't beat him with a fastball, regardless of who it is. That's got to be a good feeling for him."
A lot of work has gone into Crisp's revival.
"He's done a good job with [hitting coach Dave Magadan]," Francona said. "They've done a good job together. I think health, too, he obviously feels pretty good, his hands. Hitting is hard when you've got [issues with] fingers or wrists, or something. It's harder than it's supposed to be. It's hard enough as it is. He looks pretty healthy."
Lugo trying to find it: While Crisp appears to have found his stroke, shortstop Julio Lugo, who took a .191 average into Wednesday's game, is still searching for his.
"He was in by 9 o'clock this morning. He's trying. He's doing what we're asking," Francona said. "He's trying to somewhat simplify it. I think once you simplify it and get to a certain point, then you can get a little more technical. I think sometimes you have to keep it simple and keep your head still. If he does that, it will probably enable the other things to stay in place."
Pineiro hobbling: Talk about a fluky injury. Red Sox reliever Joel Pineiro twisted his right ankle while stumbling on Hinske's heel during team stretching exercises before Monday's game. Pineiro did not pitch in the first two games of this series, but with the Red Sox bullpen stretched thin, the right-hander served up a game-winning double in the 11th inning of the Red Sox's 2-1 loss.
"He's trying his best," Francona said. "Again, he was pretty awesome last night. He said, 'I'll pitch.' That's not what we're aiming to do, sending a guy out there who will pitch but shouldn't pitch and may get hurt. That thing is pretty puffy."
On deck: Following Thursday's off-day, Tim Wakefield will open a four-game series at home against the Rangers on Friday night. Texas counters with Jamey Wright. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 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.