KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Curt Schilling will leave his jitters in the bullpen when he makes his first start since April 23.

The Boston right-hander, who has been filling in as the Red Sox closer since mid-July, said Wednesday that replacing Keith Foulke left him feeling “naked” every time he took the mound.

“A lot of my theories were not applicable as a closer,” Schilling told Boston radio station WEEI, a day before his scheduled start against the Kansas City Royals. “In my mind, preparation-wise, I was kind of going out there naked. That was very uncomfortable for me.”

Still, Schilling – who declined to speak to reporters before Wednesday night’s game against the Royals – accomplished a good deal during the bullpen stint that started when he came off the disabled list in mid-July. He used the time to strengthen his surgically repaired right ankle, and performed well enough in relief to convert nine of his 11 save opportunities for the AL East leaders.

“He helped us win,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “That’s the bottom line. He really did something selfless to help us win.”

Also on Wednesday, an arbitrator heard left-hander David Wells’ appeal of his six-game suspension for making contact with two umpires on July 2.

Wells denied those allegations once more after the hearing, although he said he would be willing to pay a fine for swearing – although he denied saying anything out loud.

“I gave them a tape,” he said. “The tape completely shows there was no spitting, no bumping. The only thing you can do is read my lips, and that’s it.”

Wells also said the tape showed umpire Angel Hernandez grabbing him.

“If they touch us, they should be suspended,” Wells said. “That’s like bumping us, and umpires do it all the time.”

No decision is expected before Friday, and Epstein said it will likely be next week before one is handed down.

That leaves Schilling as Boston’s most immediate concern. The Red Sox intend to get him seven starts by the end of the regular season, manager Terry Francona said Wednesday, and will be watching his pitch count early on.

“I don’t know that there’s really a threshold. I think around the 75-pitch mark,” Francona said of his target for Thursday. “But it would be stupid to say Well, you’re at 75 pitches. You’re done,’ if it’s in the middle of a hitter and he’s throwing well. You just have to use common sense. It’s more how hard he has to work in an inning.”

Working in the late innings presented its own challenges for Schilling.

“There’s a lot of adjustments to be made,” Schilling said. “That realy is the kind of transition you make in spring training, where you can set the environment and get yourself adjusted. I just never did. I’m not really sure why.

“I don’t doubt for a second i could do it. I don’t doubt either that I could be good at it. I just think it’s a much different mental challenge to make than it was physical.”

Francona wasn’t worried about Schilling having any trouble with readjusting to a starting role.

“He’s 39 years old,” Francona said. “He’s been doing this a long time. He’s all right.”

Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston also contributed to this report.

AP-ES-08-24-05 2032EDT

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