PITTSBURGH -- Three weeks after landing on the disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle, southpaw Francisco Liriano on Monday will take his next step toward returning to the Pirates' rotation.
It just isn't known whether it will be in Indianapolis or in Busch Stadium.
Liriano, who reported no issues following Wednesday's 73-pitch simulated game, is due to throw a side session on Friday. Depending on how that exercise goes, he will either go on Minor League rehab assignment to Triple-A, and face Lehigh Valley, or go through another sim game prior to the Bucs' game in St. Louis.
At either place, Liriano is looking to stretch out to 85 pitches, across five or six innings.
"We're considering the rehab game; it just hasn't been confirmed," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "Let's see how his bullpen goes."
"I'm very happy with the way I felt [Wednesday]," Liriano said. "I'm very happy with where I'm at right now. … So far, so good. The first couple of days, right when I started throwing [there was a little hesitation], I didn't want to get hurt again. But now, I feel more free mentally; I don't feel it at all. Everything feels good now, [I'm] pitching Monday, and we'll see how it goes."
If Liriano throws in the rehab game, and convinces the staff that one is enough, he would be on track to potentially jump into the rotation during the Pirates' final pre-All-Star break series, in Cincinnati.
That seems highly doubtful for a couple of reasons, but the effectiveness of the current quintet in particular removes the need to hurry Liriano back prior to the four-day All-Star break.
"I don't want to get in front of us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I want to make sure that we're good with him and we give him the time -- the mound time -- he needs to get confidence back in his body, his arm, his delivery, all those things. We'll continue to take it one outing at a time."
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.