FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The seminal moment wasn't even a pitch that counted, just a warmup toss prior to the second inning of yesterday's minor league game vs. Pittsburgh's top affiliate. But that one pitch was exactly what Curt Schilling had been seeking.
"It kind of clicked for me, arm-angle-wise," Schilling said. "I threw a ball and knew. It happens every spring at some point where you kind of make an adjustment and go, `OK, that's what it was.' "
That began what was an extremely encouraging afternoon for Schilling. He had given up consecutive doubles to begin the game and allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits in the first inning.
But between the second and fifth, he recorded six of his seven strikeouts and allowed just two base runners, one via walk, the other on a broken-bat single. He showcased a lively splitter and sharp curveball and repeatedly spotted his fastball against the Triple A Indianapolis Indians, the same team he's scheduled to face April 7 in Pawtucket's season opener.
By the time he exited after five innings, he'd thrown 69 pitches, 54 for strikes, allowing four hits, two runs (one earned), with seven strikeouts against one walk.
It wasn't what he did, though, as much as how he did it.
In that second inning, once he found his arm angle, Schilling committed to smoke on the outer half. He ended the inning with six consecutive called strikes. He got Jose Velandia, then painted the outside corner on Scott Neuberger, who was left similarly unmoved.
Schilling's velocity just sounded better.
"I don't know for sure," said Jason Varitek, asked if Schilling threw harder than he did four days earlier against the Twins. "It appeared to be to me. He just appeared stronger."
In the fourth, Schilling set up Ronny Paulino with consecutive curveballs, then pumped it up with a fastball away that Paulino watched zip by. In the fifth, Schilling ate up Brad Eldrid with splitters, then used the same pitch to end the day against Paul Chiaffredo.
"I enjoy and probably have more fun pitching in a game with guys on rehab and Triple A guys because they're up for it," Schilling said. "And for a guy like me who's a fastball pitcher, a lot of times it's a good barometer for your command because they're going to go up and they're going to look fastball and they're going to hit fastball."
The game, originally scheduled for the team's minor league complex, was moved to City of Palms Park to simulate the feel of an actual game, for Schilling's benefit. That never materialized, though, because the game was not open to the public.
"We weren't capable of handling a crowd today from a logistical standpoint," said general manager Theo Epstein. "That's why the game was never advertised."
Only 53 people were counted in the stands at game time. That number swelled to 77, then peaked at 79 when Matt Clement and his young son, Mattix, stopped by. It didn't appear that many fans attempted to attend, but two who showed up at noon found the gates locked. Usually, fans can wander into minor league games.
Asked, then, the benefit of shifting the day's activities to City of Palms, Schilling offered a classic take.
"I don't know that there was a benefit," he said. "I've been on that end of it. I know what it's like to be able to come up and pitch in a big league stadium, people or not. I thought it would be something a little bit different for them. It wouldn't have bothered me to go over [to the minor league complex] and pitch."
Schilling will pitch an in-camp game Saturday. He's then on track to start in the PawSox opener April 7. Those two games are "strictly for pitch count," Schilling said.
That would put him in line to debut April 13 against the Yankees in the Sox' second home game.
"That's the plan right now, to be ready for that first homestand," Schilling said. "I'm getting ready on a condensed schedule and it's not bothering me arm-wise, which is a good thing."
Asked if he has a debut date in mind, he said, "Yeah." Asked if he'd share it, he said, "No. Tito [Francona] will get mad and I'll screw something up."
Schilling would be eligible to come off the disabled list April 10, meaning the April 11 home opener is not an impossibility. But it's unlikely since it would require him to pitch on three days' rest.