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Schilling must wait his turn

Starting role not deemed imminent

CHICAGO -- A day after Curt Schilling said he ''can go back and start right now," his manager said that scenario isn't immediately up for discussion.

''We're not going to go day to day on starter/reliever, starter/reliever," Terry Francona said before last night's game. ''I think the fact that he said that, I think it means he feels good pitching, which is great. And I understand the wanting -- of us and him -- to pitch as a starter.

''I don't think tonight, just because he feels ready, we go do that. It doesn't make sense. You can't just go week to week. You're changing roles, that's difficult on your team.

''But I'm glad he's starting to feel like that."

What happens between now and the July 31 trade deadline, Francona suggested, will affect how soon Schilling returns to his spot in the rotation.

''I don't know what's going to happen this week," Francona said. ''I don't know that anybody does. Rather than start upsetting the whole apple cart, let's at least get through the week and see where we stand."

Without knowing whether the team will acquire a reliever, Francona said he can't yet handicap whether Schilling will be tied to the closer role until Keith Foulke returns. He's due back by late August.

''Without Foulke, it certainly leaves a big void in that bullpen," Francona said. ''It's not that [Mike] Timlin can't [close]. He can. You're just robbing Peter to pay Paul. You've got to not only have that inning, you've got to get to that inning."

Zero hour

Kevin Millar was out of the lineup last night. ''Done in by the computer," said Millar, his way of saying his .000 career average (0 for 5) vs. White Sox starter Orlando Hernandez didn't inspire much confidence in his manager. Millar's absence also gave first baseman John Olerud the opportunity to get a full game of at-bats, which he probably needed.

Olerud, who hit .405 (15 for 37) through his first 24 games with the Sox, is batting just .100 (3 for 30) in 18 games in July after an 0-for-4 last night.

''I still feel good up there at the plate," said Olerud. ''I still feel I'm taking some good swings. I can't use that excuse. I just haven't been getting hits."

It's quite possible that, despite his ''No I in team" mentality, Olerud is struggling to adapt to such a limited role. He had 425 at-bats last season (261 with Seattle, then 164 with the Yankees) and has never had fewer than 358 at-bats in a season since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 1990.

Olerud admits he's not fully comfortable pinch hitting -- he's a .169 career pinch hitter (14 for 83), including 1 for 6 this season -- but says entering a game as a defensive replacement is slightly easier than pinch hitting.

''My approach, seeing a lot of pitches, doesn't exactly lend itself to pinch hitting," he said. ''A lot of guys, they're real aggressive. I have talked to guys who I've played with who have [pinch hit successfully]."

Olerud went into last night batting .300 (12 for 40) when he starts and .260 (6 for 23) when he doesn't.

Kapler getting close

Francona said it's realistic to expect Gabe Kapler to join the Red Sox Saturday, when he's eligible to come off the disabled list. Kapler, who played two games with Single A Lowell, reported to Pawtucket yesterday, started in center field, and finished with three hits (including a three-run homer) and four RBIs. He'll DH and play the outfield with the PawSox. ''My first impression," Francona said, ''would be that we think he can be ready by [Saturday]." Kapler is on the DL with a strained lower back, but that is less of an obstacle than the month-plus he went in Japan without playing before finally being placed on, and clearing, waivers . . . According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Manny Ramirez's homer Thursday night -- one pitch after Joe Crede dropped a foul popup by Ramirez -- was the first game-winner after a hitter was given ''a second life" in nearly 13 years. On Aug. 28, 1992 the Angels' Wally Joyner dropped Dan Gladden's eighth-inning foul pop, and Gladden followed with a two-run homer for a 4-2 Tigers win . . . Still no word on when David Wells's appeal of his six-game suspension will be heard. When asked for a timetable, Francona said, ''I guess after [Dewon] Brazelton." That's a reference to the Tampa Bay righthander who was issued a five-game suspension for his ''aggressive actions" toward Trot Nixon three months ago today but has yet to have his appeal heard. . . . The Sox went into last night with at least one player ranked in the top three in the American League in batting average, home runs, RBIs, and runs. Johnny Damon was leading the league in runs (75) and ranked second in hitting (.339), while Ramirez was tops in RBIs (87) and second in homers (26). Ramirez upped the homer total to 27, and RBI count to 89. Only three times in team history (1942, '47, and '67) have the Red Sox finished the season with a player leading the league in each of those four offensive categories . . . Tim Wakefield did something rare Friday night by allowing two three-run homers in the same inning. The Sox hadn't surrendered two three-run homers in the same inning since Texas's Kevin Elster and Micky Tettleton went deep off Tom Gordon and Mike Maddux, respectively, in the second inning April 24, 1996 . . . Sox prospect Anibal Sanchez, a player major league teams are asking about as the Sox seek pitching help leading up to the trade deadline, spun this beauty Friday night in just his third start since being promoted to Double A Portland: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 Ks. Sanchez, who was pitching with Single A Wilmington before his promotion, is 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 22 Ks, and just 6 walks with the Sea Dogs . . . Last night's priceless scoreboard trivia question at U.S. Cellular Field: What is Carl Everett's favorite cartoon? The answer: ''The Flintstones." This, despite Everett's contention that dinosaurs never existed . . . Wade Miller won for the first time outside of Fenway Park. Before last night he was 2-1 with a 4.07 ERA in the Fens but 0-3 with a 6.25 ERA everywhere else.

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