Coming off yet another late-inning meltdown, Schilling and the Red Sox will try to regroup when they continue their three-game series with the suddenly red-hot Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Francona believes working in the closer’s role has been good for World Series hero Schilling, who missed 69 games this season with a right ankle injury. Schilling, reinstated from the disabled list on July 13, could return to the rotation later this year.
“I hope so,” Francona said prior to Monday’s series opener. “I think this is going to actually accelerate, maybe not him starting, but when he does start being effective. He’s gotten repetition in his delivery. I really think this has been good for him. I think he probably thinks so, too.”
However, a case can also be made that Schilling has done more harm than good as the temporary replacement for closer Keith Foulke, who is recovering from a knee injury.
Schilling is 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA and two saves in seven relief appearances this season. The veteran right-hander has also blown one save.
On Monday he came into a tie game to start the ninth and retired the side in order. But in the 10th he gave up a two-out, RBI double to Aubrey Huff that gave Tampa Bay a 4-3 win.
Boston has lost 10 of 16 and its lead over the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East is down to one game, with the teams even in the loss column.
The Devil Rays have won a season high-tying four in a row, and are 8-3 since the All-Star break.
“We’re getting breaks we haven’t gotten in the first half,” Huff said. “I don’t see anything different except our pitching is getting it done now.”
Tampa Bay will entrust its winning streak to Mark Hendrickson on Tuesday. The 6-foot-9 left-hander didn’t get an out in allowing six runs on Wednesday at Boston, a game the Devil Rays went on to lose 9-4.
“We want him to be more aggressive,” manager Lou Piniella said of Hendrickson. “Utilize his size more.”
Hendrickson is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA in 11 career appearances, including 10 starts, against the Red Sox.