Shoulder Woes Sideline Schilling

When the Red Sox re-signed Curt Schilling to a one-year deal Nov. 6, Theo Epstein admitted he and the club's decision-makers had pondered the idea of a six-man rotation but that he was worried about tempting fate by committing to it.

"There's just so much attrition in baseball," Epstein said. "I think the minute we start counting on having a six-man rotation or give it any consideration, that's when we lose a pitcher or two in spring training."

It didn't even take that long.

The tranquility of the Sox' atypically quiet winter was shattered Thursday, when The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe reported Schilling, who has been preparing for what he says will be his final season, has a serious shoulder injury—believed to be a partial tear of the rotator cuff. The injury may require surgery and could end his Hall of Fame-caliber career, and the Globe reported that Schilling will not pitch until after the All-Star Break regardless of whether or not he goes under the knife.

The newspapers reported Schilling was advised to undergo surgery by Dr. Craig Morgan, who performed career-saving surgery on Schilling's right shoulder in 1995, but that Sox team doctor Thomas Gill recommended rest and rehabilitation. Per the collective bargaining agreement, the Sox and Schilling were allowed to seek the opinion of a third doctor, and the Globe reported Mets medical director David Altchek evaluated Schilling and agreed with the Sox.

According to the newspapers, the Sox threatened to void Schilling's contract—worth a guaranteed $8 million—if he underwent the surgery against the team's wishes. Both papers indicated a rift had developed between the Sox and Schilling over the standoff.

Schilling, who earlier in the day declined comment to numerous media outlets, including redsox.com and the Globe, posted on his blog, 38pitches.com, late Thursday and denied that Morgan either diagnosed a tear or recommended surgery.

"Please understand that a lot of what has been reported is not true," Schilling wrote. "When the club feels it's appropriate to further discuss the details of this issue publicly I will elaborate."

The Sox, meanwhile, remained silent except for an ominous-sounding 35-word statement released shortly after 8 pm that read: "Curt Schilling was examined by Red Sox doctors in January after he reported feeling right shoulder discomfort. Curt has started a program of rest, rehabilitation and shoulder strengthening in an attempt to return to pitching."

In his blog, Schilling said he agreed with the Sox' treatment plan "…in hopes that will provide the results they believe it will."

Schilling, who turned 41 in November, missed seven weeks last summer with what the Sox called right shoulder tendonitis. He came within one out of a no-hitter against the Athletics June 6, but two starts later, his fastball was clocked in the low-to-mid 80s against the Braves and he failed to record a strikeout for the first time in 348 starts. He was placed on the disabled list shortly thereafter.

Schilling was a transformed pitcher upon his return in August, relying more on finesse than power as his fastball regularly topped out in the high 80s. The one-time workhorse pitched beyond the sixth inning just three times in 13 starts (including the postseason) yet remained effective—he had a 3.34 ERA in his final nine regular season outings and a 3.00 ERA in four postseason starts—and spoke optimistically of his hopes for 2008.

After the World Series, Schilling filed for free agency for the first time and appeared prepared to leave Boston after he wrote farewell letters to numerous teammates. But even though he believed he could have landed a two-year deal worth up to $30 million elsewhere, Schilling wasted little time hammering out an incentive-laden deal with the Sox that could have paid him up to $13 million if he met certain weight-, innings- and awards-based criteria.

The return of Schilling gave the Sox seven starters under contract, but Epstein said the Sox wanted to stockpile depth and that he believed Schilling was a better investment than anyone else on the market even if he wasn't able to provide 180 innings. "If he struggles or has a difficult time staying healthy and can only contribute, say, 120 innings as a depth guy who is protected—we have him at a price that makes sense," Epstein said. "I think when you have a contract like this, it really mitigates the risks as much as possible.

"That said, all baseball contracts are risky."

Schilling's extended absence opens a rotation spot for top prospect Clay Buchholz behind Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester but also leaves Julian Tavarez, who failed to make any of the three postseason rosters, as the sixth starter.

This is the third serious shoulder injury suffered by Schilling. He had a labral tear repaired and a bone spur removed by Dr. Morgan in August 1995 and had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder in December 1999.

Schilling is 216-146 lifetime with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts and has fashioned a reputation as the best postseason pitcher of his generation by going 10-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts and leading the Diamondbacks and Sox to world championships in 2001 and 2004. While he has said he's not pitching to bolster his Hall of Fame candidacy, he is considered a borderline case who could cement his credentials with one or two more solid seasons.

Only time will tell if his resume is already complete.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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