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Ace talks good game

Outing pleases Schilling

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One thing you can say about a Curt Schilling outing -- it's an event. Fire up the charcoal and open the tailgates. Watch him pitch and then listen to him explain it.

The themes of the annual St. Patrick's Day game at City of Palms Park yesterday, a 3-1 Red Sox win over the Cleveland Indians, were plentiful:

Theme No. 1: Schilling used five pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, split-finger -- among the 74 he threw in allowing two hits (including a home run to Casey Blake) in six innings.

Theme No. 2: He's trying to condition himself to pitch effectively at Fenway Park by changing the direction of fly balls he allows from left and left-center fields to center and right-center.

Theme No. 3: His emerging relationship with catcher Jason Varitek, a couple of preparation freaks who have strong opinions on how hitters should be pitched.

Schilling pitched so well he feels he could start the regular season now.

"Sure, physically I feel good," he said. "Playing with 75 pitches today, I felt as strong after the sixth as when I started the game. Next time I'll probably throw around 90 and stretch it out.

"When I'm out there now it's starting to be more regular season as far as pitch selection and how I go about setting guys up. This was the first time this spring I had a bit of a game plan on guys I wanted to get a feel for. I like that because the season is getting closer and I can start to mentally get locked in."

To be able to command five pitches in a spring training game is impressive. But as Schilling pointed out, there might be three or four games during the season when all five pitches are working. There will also be games where none of them are working. It seems Schilling almost always has his fastball to rely upon, which is the one similarity, according to Varitek, between Schilling and Pedro Martinez.

"The ability to throw No. 1 where they want to and be able to command it is why they're both great pitchers," Varitek said.

Schilling threw only three or four curveballs, according to Varitek, but mixed in the other pitches evenly. Manager Terry Francona felt Schilling was throwing more offspeed pitches than in the past.

Schilling threw 50 of his 74 pitches for strikes. Twelve of his 18 outs were fly balls. Another fly ball was dropped by Brian Daubach in left field. And another was hit out of the park by Blake to left-center on a 2-and-2 pitch.

Schilling said one of his main goals this spring is relocating the fly balls he allows.

"I thought we did that in a couple of situations today where we were intentionally trying to do it," he said. "And that's a good feel for me. I can't really explain it, but when you're on the mound and you're getting ready to throw a pitch and you know the result before it happens, it's a pretty powerful thing, and it happens to me a lot because I've seen these guys hit off me time and time again, so I know if I make my pitch, I know the ball's going to go to this spot if it gets hit."

And if he's locked in, Schilling can position his defense accordingly.

"I moved my infielders a couple of times today, because I knew if the ball was in play, I knew where it was going to go," he said. "When my command is coming on, that's what happens. Fenway is a park that allows you to make mistakes to center and right-center. As a guy who puts balls in the air, I need to make sure that's the part of the ballpark I use the most."

And then there's the Schilling-Varitek relationship.

"From a preparation standpoint, we're birds of a feather," Schilling said. "He's got an opinion on every hitter in different situations, and so do I. I'm going to be able to tap into that extensively, and that's something I've never had before. There aren't many guys in the big leagues that are that into it. I take a lot of pride in the amount of time I put in getting ready for a game, and to know I'm going to have a crutch on the field and in the same clubhouse, it's a big deal to me."

Asked whether they will be able to agree enough to make it work, Schilling said, "I don't know if it's an agree or disagree type of situation. It's more me shaking him off and saying, `I want to do it this way,' and explain to him after the inning why I want to do it, or him making me go a certain way that maybe I didn't want to go in and saying this is why I wanted to do that.

"I've told all the catchers I've ever had if I shake you off and you call a pitch you want, put it back down, to make me understand that you have an idea. A lot of guys don't want to take that responsibility. They want to call the game and put down the fingers you want them to put down. I ask a lot of my catchers, and the guys playing behind me. Sometimes they give it and sometimes they don't. He's certainly a guy who's going to be giving it."

Both players knew about each other's passion for preparation. Schilling said he heard it at the Red Sox' sales pitch to him at his Arizona home last Thanksgiving. But "to what extent I really didn't know until I got with him down here and saw more and more of it," Schilling said.

Varitek said he has not yet gotten into game planning because he's trying to prepare for the season. He figures at some point he and Schilling will watch tape together. This is a different approach than Martinez, who, according to Varitek, goes by feel.

Varitek said he and Schilling will likely come to a meeting of the minds.

"It will [come together] through time," said Varitek. "It's about me learning him and what he can and can't do."

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