Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling will not have shoulder surgery after the problems that plagued him last summer resurfaced. Despite the recommendation of the doctor who operated on the shoulder in 1995, he will follow the more conservative course prescribed by Sox medical director Thomas Gill after the club and player agreed to submit to yesterday's recommendation by an outside medical expert brought in to break the impasse.
Even without surgery, the 41-year-old Schilling is not expected to be ready to pitch until at least the All-Star break, according to several sources familiar with his condition.
The Sox refrained from comment until last night, issuing this brief statement: "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."
Sources with direct knowledge of Schilling's condition have indicated that a partial tear of his rotator cuff may be involved, and that there is no question his shoulder is showing considerable wear and tear from pitching professionally for 22 years.
Schilling, who declined comment to reporters, posted an entry last night on his website in which he did not reveal details of the injury and acknowledged that he and the team differed on the best way to proceed.
"There have been disagreements these past few weeks in an effort to provide me with a solution that would allow me to pitch as much as possible during the 2008 season," Schilling wrote. "At no time did I ever consider taking a course of action against the club's wishes. In the end, regardless of who agreed with whom, I have chosen the club's course of action and will vigorously pursue any and every option I can to be able to help this team to another World Series title in 2008."
Schilling did not indicate when he thought he'd be able to pitch.
He passed a physical before he signed a one-year, $8 million contract last November. But the pitcher experienced a recurrence of the shoulder discomfort that sidelined him for seven weeks last summer. In addition to seeing Gill, Schilling flew to Delaware Jan. 28 to see Dr. Craig Morgan, who repaired his shoulder when he was with the Phillies in 1995. While Gill recommended rest and rehabilitation, much like the treatment followed by former Sox pitcher Pedro Martínez in 2001, Morgan urged surgery for Schilling, according to one source with direct knowledge of the medical issues involved, which conceivably could have ended Schilling's career.
The Boston Herald reported Morgan recommended surgery on Schilling's biceps tendon. Morgan spoke with the newspaper with Schilling's permission. Schilling did not respond to a similar request from the Globe.
According to one source, the Sox raised the possibility that Schilling would forfeit his contract if he proceeded to have surgery without their permission, and there were indications the dispute has led to strained feelings between the parties. Schilling disputed that characterization in his blog.
He also said Morgan did not recommend rotator cuff surgery, which may be a matter of semantics. Two sources with direct knowledge of the medical issues involved said Morgan recommended surgery, which conflicted with the conservative treatment urged by Gill. That's why a third party was brought in.
There is a provision in an attachment to the new collective bargaining agreement in which the club and player ask for a third medical expert to intervene. In this case, the parties turned to Dr. David Altchek, the medical director of the New York Mets, who sided with the club, according to sources.
Schilling was being counted upon to take a regular turn in the Sox rotation. The leading candidate to take his place is rookie Clay Buchholz, who would join Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield. Swingman Julian Tavarez began last season in the rotation, and is another candidate.
But without Schilling, the rotation is lacking depth, especially in light of the fact that Wakefield, who turns 42 in August, missed the playoffs because of discomfort in the back of his shoulder. Last season, the Sox used nine starting pitchers after being in double digits in both 2006 (14) and 2005 (10). Schilling's absence raises the possibility the Sox could add another starter through either free agency or a trade, perhaps using center fielder Coco Crisp as a bargaining chip.
Morgan, citing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations, referred all questions to Schilling, who when reached via e-mail responded, "I cannot comment right now on any of this, sorry!"
Until last night's statement, the only word coming from the Sox was an e-mailed no comment from general manager Theo Epstein.
Michael Weiner, a lawyer for the players' union, said he became aware of the dispute between the parties in the last few days.
"We've been contacted by Curt and his representatives," Weiner said. "We see no basis for the Red Sox to take any actions against Curt."
Schilling went on the DL June 22 (retroactive to June 19) after a disastrous outing in Atlanta June 18 in which his velocity registered in the low 80s and he allowed six runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings against the Braves. He was sidelined until Aug. 6, and upon his return acknowledged he had altered his approach, becoming more of a finesse pitcher than the power pitcher he'd been most of his career.
While noting the transition was a work in progress, Schilling had some success in his return, posting a 3-4 record and a 3.34 ERA from that point. He also was 3-0 in the postseason, winning the clinching game of the AL Division Series against the Angels and rebounding from a Game 2 shellacking by the Indians to win Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
Schilling ranks eighth in wins among active pitchers with 216, fourth in strikeouts with 3,116, and ninth in innings with 3,261.
After signaling he might not be coming back to the Sox following last season, sending letters of farewell to some teammates, Schilling elected to take less money to return, signing the one-year deal for $8 million, with an additional $3 million in weight-clause incentives. He has said this definitely will be his last season.
"At this time I have agreed to abide with the club's wishes," Schilling wrote last night, "in hopes that will provide the results they believe it will."
Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.