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On closer inspection

Schilling is expected to get a look out of Red Sox bullpen

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Curt Schilling's locker, filled on Tuesday with shirts and hats and shoes, stood empty yesterday. The pitcher had headed back to Pawtucket, R.I., back to the minors with a new role in hand: reliever. Closer, most likely.

Keith Foulke, too, was gone. He had spent the day in Boston having MRIs on both knees. It was announced he needs arthroscopic surgery on the left knee, and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Suddenly, in the span of a day, ace had become closer. And the closer was missing.

It is not known how long Schilling will remain absent from the Red Sox, making rehab appearances out of the bullpen in Pawtucket (including tonight). He likely won't be back before the All-Star break. It is not known how long Foulke will remain absent, either. It will probably be at least a month.

Manager Terry Francona emphasized that Schilling's move to the bullpen would have an expiration date. Possibly when he's healthy enough to start. Possibly when Foulke's healthy enough to close.

''Being candid, [Mike] Timlin and Schill are going to, more often than not, pitch at the end of games," Francona said. ''Schill's not going to go every day. This is going to be a little bit unique. But they'll both get opportunities to close games and be there at the end.

''This is not permanent. Whether it's two weeks, two months, it's not two years. We don't know what's going to happen. Two weeks ago we weren't having this conversation. We're trying to do the best we can. I don't think we have leeway to not win. Our job is to win, so we're going to do the best we can to win. And thankfully we have some people who feel the same way.

''This guy's one of the premier starters in the game and he runs in here and says he'll go to the bullpen. I'm on board with that."

Questions arose throughout the clubhouse. Players had learned yesterday -- or didn't yet know -- about Schilling's new role. Some -- Tim Wakefield, for instance -- weren't thrilled.

''The way our rotation is now, if it doesn't stay healthy, we need another starter," said Wakefield, who has bounced from starting to relieving in years past. ''I'd rather have Curt coming in as a starter than having him close and then counting on our rotation to stay healthy for the rest of the year. We were fortunate last year that we all made every one of our starts, all five of us. That's very rare."

Schilling, who was not available for comment yesterday, will not be a typical reliever. Francona said he would not bring him into a game in the middle of an inning, as Schilling needs more time to warm up than an average relief pitcher. He's simply not going to be ready after 10 throws in the bullpen. He has made one relief appearance since 1992, though he did spend much of his first few years in the majors relieving.

''To start off, we will not have him warm up to face a hitter in an inning," Francona said. ''We can't do that. He has experience in the bullpen, but it's been a long time. It takes him a while to get loose. We acknowledge that. It's not perfect, but I think he can impact our ballclub significantly."

Especially with Foulke out. According to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger, Foulke had declined a team request that he have arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. Foulke made it exactly halfway through the season -- Monday's ninth-inning blowup, in which the closer allowed two runs in the ninth to the Rangers, marked the Sox' 81st game -- but no more.

With a 5-5 record, four blown saves, and a 6.23 ERA, it was clear to just about everyone that something wasn't right. The mechanics? The arm strength? The knees.

Now with Foulke out, Francona must manage his way through a period in which prior roles suddenly don't mean so much.

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