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Schilling steps in right direction

Curt Schilling was able to shed the boot he's been wearing on his right foot for more than three weeks and will now begin a progression of activity aimed at getting the big righthander back on the mound.

Team physician Thomas Gill said yesterday that Schilling, who has lost some of the weight he gained after offseason surgery on his right ankle, will be wearing a light brace and a normal shoe and will walk around for a day or two without the boot to make sure he has no discomfort.

If Schilling passes that test, Gill said the ace will advance to long-tossing, throwing off a mound, and a simulated game. Gill, who said yesterday's news was ''very encouraging," warned there's no timetable for Schilling's return, but stopped short of ruling out a start against the Yankees next week.

''It's literally day to day on how he feels," Gill said. ''It's a progression. He's going to walk in a little bit of a brace that allows him to use a normal shoe. And then we'll play around with the shoe a little bit to see if we can find him something with a little more support. If he does that well, then we get him throwing starting at 120 feet and we'll start to move him out farther and farther. When he gets to a point where he can go . . . he's a veteran and he'll tell us how quickly he can advance from there."

Schilling, who went on the disabled list April 27, was not available for comment.

Gill said Schilling's shoulder feels fine because he's kept up a throwing program and an aerobic conditioning program that should quicken his return.

''He has the type of injuries that there are not specific timetables for," Gill said. ''It's obviously something we need to be very careful about after what happened last year. He has a very complicated ankle problem. We're going to go through our progression. The first one is when he can throw -- long-toss without pain, off the mound without pain, increase his number of pitches, and if he can do that, then we can get him into a simulated game."

While Gill examined Schilling, former Sox team physician Bill Morgan was also seen in the clubhouse before the game. Morgan has also been monitoring Schilling's ankle.

Asked how it was determined the boot could be removed, Gill said, ''We go based on how tender the ankle is. He didn't have any tenderness near the area where he had the surgery. He's making progress. Now it's a matter of getting strength back. He's got to be comfortable. He's not a guy who can go half-speed."

Gill characterized the injury as a bone bruise or stress reaction in the ankle and said while it's uncommon in baseball players, it's common with figure skaters and runners. Gill said he wasn't certain if the injury is related to the ankle surgery.

Mirabelli put on DL
The Red Sox placed backup catcher Doug Mirabelli on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left wrist and purchased the contract of Pawtucket's Shawn Wooten.

According to Gill, Mirabelli, who had never been on the DL in his seven-year career, was using a slightly heavier bat (belonging to David Ortiz) in his second at-bat in the series finale against Oakland and ''swung and kind of jammed his wrist on the side a bit and he sprained one of the protective covers in the wrist. His treatment is basically going to be in a little wrist splint for a while, get some ice, keep doing his conditioning, and we'll check him again in a week."

The question now is who will catch Tim Wakefield, scheduled to pitch tonight? Mirabelli has been Wakefield's catcher and manager Terry Francona was huddling with Wakefield and Jason Varitek to determine the best course of action. The best bet is Varitek.

Wooten, 32, said he has experience catching knuckleball pitchers, including Steve Sparks when they were in the Angels organization. Wooten has also caught Charlie Zinc, a Sox farmhand who throws a knuckleball.

Wooten got the call because Pawtucket's starting catcher, Kelly Shoppach, has been banged up. Wooten had been catching regularly for almost a week.

Mane connection
Bronson Arroyo will host the young Norton student who was suspended for going to school with his hair in dreadlocks to honor Arroyo, who last season wore his hair that way. Arroyo said he had been inundated with messages from people who told him the story and Arroyo decided to call the family and invite them to tonight's game. Arroyo said he spoke to Zack Alves and looked forward to meeting him. ''I'm just blown away that anyone would want to copy my hairstyle," Arroyo said. ''I used to go to school with a Mohawk with Ozzie Smith's name carved on the side of my head and I never got kicked out of school for it." . . . Francona said he would play the regulars for only an at-bat or two in the Hall of Fame game Monday in Cooperstown, N.Y. The manager said he'll also use a bunch of minor leaguers against the Tigers. Anibal Sanchez from Single A Wilmington will start, one of six minor league pitchers making the trek, including Hyde Park's Manny Delcarmen. Top prospect Hanley Ramirez also will be on hand.

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