Pirates optimistic Liriano will start opener

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BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates are optimistic Francisco Liriano will take the mound for opening day next Monday, after their ace threw a 55-pitch simulated game today and reported no pain.

Liriano, who was sidelined less than a week with groin stiffness, said he felt great after the outing and was eager to lead the Pirates into the 2014 season.

“Feels great. Didn’t bother me at all. Everything feels normal,” said Liriano. “My only concern was throwing from the stretch. It didn’t bother me so thinking it’s going to be OK. I think I’ll be OK for opening day.”

The Pirates are being cautious with Liriano, and for good reason.

Liriano is a critical piece of the club’s pitching staff and never before had experienced the type of stiffness that ended last week’s outing early.

Pitching coach Ray Searage said it is too soon to declare Liriano good-to-go until his left-hander shows no signs of a lingering problem. Searage said it is conceivable the club will take every day up until Sunday or Monday to make a final determination.

“It’s going to be an ongoing thing. We just want to make sure that he is good to go then we can keep moving forward,” said Searage. “I’m waiting to see how the repercussions of going out of the stretch are. That’s where the left leg is more isolated. You don’t have that momentum going with you as you do in the windup, so that’s the biggest thing.”

Liriano pitched three simulated innings at McKechnie Field, throwing his fastball, slider and changeup with a batter in the box.

He fielded grounders, bunts, and twice went through the process of cooling down in the dugout and warming back up.

Liriano, who signed in the offseason with the Pirates last year, spent the beginning of 2013 on the disabled list before embarking on a magical resurgence with the Pirates.

The former all-star said being the opening-day starter truly means a lot to him.

“It’s very important to me. Last year I started on the DL so I don’t want the same thing to happen to me this year,” said Liriano. “At the same time I want to make sure I’m healthy for the whole year, not for one game. Trying to take care of myself and make sure I’m OK to pitch the whole year. It feels great. I’m happy how I feel…we’ll see how I feel (today) and looking forward to opening day.”

General manager Neal Huntington said there is a contingency plan in place if Liriano is not OK, but that he heard nothing but positive news about how Liriano responded from the training staff.

“It’s a balance between making sure we don’t put him in harms way and making sure we respect his desire to compete when he says he’s ready to go,” said Huntington. “And we’ve got to make the best decision we can for him and the organization.

“Obviously we’ve got contingency plans in place but we expect he should continue to move forward and as long as we get those results we’ll be in a good spot.”

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