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Miller may be ahead of schedule

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Back on March 9, Wade Miller conceded he'll miss at least one month of the season, to give his rotator cuff sufficient time to mend, and "hopefully come back for the last five months."

Yesterday, he said, "Hopefully, I'll be back before then. The way I've been feeling the last few bullpens, I haven't had any setbacks, and I've been letting the ball go. The biggest thing was the fastball. I've been throwing it where I want to."

Miller intends to throw in a minor league game before the Sox break camp, which is a week from tomorrow. He then plans to travel with the team rather than stay in extended spring training so he can remain under the watch of assistant trainer Chris Correnti.

"Then a rehab assignment, about the time their games begin," Miller said.

That accelerated timetable could allow Miller to make approximately 28 starts. Privately, the Sox have hoped for half a season out of Miller, considering anything more a bonus.

Pitcher as projectionist
Encouraged by his work in a minor league game Monday, Curt Schilling arrived with a schedule outlining how and when he'll pitch himself into the regular-season rotation. Manager Terry Francona said Schilling's math was off a bit. On his calendar, Schilling counted an extra day at the end of March and beginning of April, perhaps to set himself up to pitch the April 11 home opener.

Asked if Schilling might still pitch the home opener, Francona said, "Probably a few days after that. I don't think that's going to work on the schedule we set up."

Could that mean April 18, the day the Sox will need a fifth starter for the first time? "It may be before that," said Francona.

As it stands, Schilling will pitch another minor league game Friday, then another a week from today. He intends to travel with the team to New York for the season-opening series but might come back to Florida on the off day, April 4, to throw a fourth minor league game. That much Francona spelled out yesterday.

Assuming regular rest and no setbacks, Schilling would throw again April 9 -- though it's unclear where -- then possibly start at Fenway April 14 against the Yankees. That would be the Sox' ninth game.

A side note on Schilling: When the season begins, he can be put on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to as many as 10 days in spring training. But if he pitches in a spring game that charges admission -- any game with the big club -- he must be put on the DL retroactive to the day after that game.

Hyzdu dealt for reliever
The Sox have found someone for the open bullpen spot, dealing Pawtucket outfielder Adam Hyzdu to San Diego for 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound righthander Blaine Neal.

Neal, who split last season between Triple A Portland and San Diego, was 1-1 with a 4.07 ERA in a career-high 40 appearances in the major leagues. He brings a good strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 36 strikeouts, 11 walks, in 42 innings -- and throws 93-94 miles per hour. In 39 innings at Triple A, he posted a 1.86 ERA.

"It was getting a little obvious that we could use an arm at the end of the bullpen," Francona said.

Neal, who turns 26 April 6, does not have options remaining, meaning he'd have to clear waivers to be sent to Pawtucket.

Hyzdu, the PawSox Player of the Year last season (.301, 29 HRs, 79 RBIs), hit .241 this spring with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs in 29 at-bats. Hyzdu, 33, did have options left, and had he remained, he was likely Pawtucket bound.

"I told Adam we really liked him as a player and a person," general manager Theo Epstein said. "We saw his skill set as somewhat redundant. It was going to be tough to make the team."

The Sox are likely to break camp with four players who played for the Padres last season: Neal, David Wells, Jay Payton, and Ramon Vazquez.

Not quite razor-sharp
Johnny Damon returned a day earlier than planned, and clean-shaven at that. Damon said the cellulitis around his groin and ankle has subsided, though he'll continue taking antibiotics for about a week. In his first game since March 13, Damon popped to second base, struck out swinging, and grounded to second, exiting after five innings in a 6-4 loss to Cincinnati . . . Tim Wakefield allowed all six runs on eight hits and three walks. Expected to pitch five innings, he was lifted after 3 2/3 and 85 pitches. The Sox drew a spring-high 7,989 at City of Palms Park . . . Keith Foulke retired all seven batters he faced, striking out two in a perfect 2 1/3 innings. In four appearances, totaling 5 1/3 innings, hitters are 1 for 16 against Foulke with one walk. He has yet to allow a run. A year ago, he allowed 17 hits and 15 runs in nine innings. "That might be the worst I've ever seen," Francona said of Foulke's 2004 spring . . . Foulke, Mike Timlin, Jack Cressend, and Lenny DiNardo combined to pitch 5 1/3 hitless innings . . . David Ortiz launched his fifth homer of the spring. Straightaway center measures 410 feet, and the ball crashed into the top of a green backstop behind the fence, just right of center. The press box consensus: a 450-foot blast . . . Rule 5 outfielder Adam Stern is now in a hard cast that won't be removed until April 16. Once out of the cast, Stern will work out at the minor league complex. He'd then be allowed a rehabilitation assignment of no longer than 20 days. At that pace, the Sox might not have to decide until mid or late May whether to keep him or offer him back to Atlanta.


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