BRADENTON, Fla. -- Except for the lack of 40,000 witnesses, festive bunting and a brilliant skyline, Francisco Liriano took the McKechnie Field mound Wednesday morning under the same conditions he can expect Monday afternoon in PNC Park.
A bright sky and 50 degrees: perfect environment in which to prep for a March 31 Opening Day assignment in Pittsburgh. But to get to fulfill that real honor, the left-hander had to pass a simulated test of his tight left groin muscle.
He did that, for three innings and 55 pitches, throwing to Pittsburgh Minor Leaguers. Liriano pronounced himself "ready to go" after the drill that also included sprinting to cover first base and fielding bunts.
The official confirmation of his Opening Day status, however, will depend on how he feels when he checks in at McKechnie Field on Thursday morning.
"We'll see how it feels tomorrow, if it's not too sore," Liriano said. "But today, it feels great. It didn't bother me. I didn't feel it at all. I think I'm ready to go."
Pitching coach Ray Searage agreed.
"He looked fine, his normal self. We'll just have to see how he feels in the morning," said Searage, who skipped the Bucs' ride to Fort Myers, Fla., and the Grapefruit League game against the Twins to monitor Liriano's pitching.
The increasing tightness in the area had forced Liriano out of last Thursday's start against Baltimore after 76 pitches, about 15 pitches shy of the target the staff would have liked to see him reach. Liriano shrugged off not being ideally stretched out.
"I think I'm game-ready," Liriano said. "As long as it doesn't bother me, I'll be OK. I didn't feel it at all, from stretch or windup. And I threw everything like a regular game."
Upon receiving Searage's report, general manager Neal Huntington could only concur with the party line.
"As we said from Day 1 that he had the tightness, it's a day to day type situation," Huntington said. "He felt good through all the activity today and we'll see where he's at tomorrow."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.